Nisan 5, 5765
In Texas on Monday, George W. Bush and Ariel
Sharon marked out the furthest borders that any Israeli prime minister can
dream of: at most - and even that is not without conditions and not
necessarily so - they will be the eastern line around the major Israeli
population centers (settlement blocs) in the territories, including - by
implication - the post-1967 Jerusalem neighborhoods.
It's doubtful Israel will ever find a friendlier president than Bush, and one more combative toward its enemies. If he drew that line, for his guest Sharon and the world watching them, it means that any campaign to save dozens of settlements and tens of thousands of settlers who are outside that line is doomed from the start. Many Israelis, who have long hoped for a compromise based on the 1967 lines, won't regard that as a defeat, but just the opposite. But others, including those who have been in power for years or on the rightist flanks that made things difficult for governments, play with the delusion of holding onto all the settlements of the West Bank.
Until recently, Sharon was among them. The far-reaching implication of the statements made at the president's ranch was that now Sharon has adopted Bush's territorial vision. "Israel's position," the prime minister announced festively, is that the blocs will remain in Israel's hands in any future arrangement. Therefore, when the time comes, the dispute that emerged from the statements by the two will be about the definitions and sizes of those blocs. Bush followed reality and successive Israeli governments since Yitzhak Rabin, who recognized that a Palestinian state will succeed the Jordanian kingdom as the authority in the West Bank. He also referred to another element of reality, the population centers, but with a significant reservation: there is an American position, but any changes to the 1967 lines require agreement by both sides.
Another important message - and a welcome one at that - which was clearly enunciated in what the president said, was his determination to continue efforts to fulfill his Middle East vision. Bush reiterated and emphasized his support for his guest's plan to disengage from Gaza. However, he made clear that he will regard completion of that move - which he rightly called daring - as Israeli progress on the road map, which is supposed to lead the parties toward fulfillment of his vision.
Bush made sure to note that Sharon is going to conduct the disengagement "in coordination with the Palestinian Authority or without it." He called on the PA to coordinate with the Israelis. In their working session, it has been reported, much of the time was spent examining ways to fortify the PA and strengthen the position of Abu Mazen. Bush thinks Abu Mazen's greatest test will come after the Israeli withdrawal, when he will be forced to prove that the PA is able to impose security worthy of its name on the Gaza Strip and to conduct normal civic life there.
From Bush's statement it is clear that there is a connection between tactic and strategy in American policy. The final goal is to achieve an agreement between the sides, and movement toward that goal will proceed according to the road map. Israel's first step is evacuating Gaza and the northern Samaria area. The first Palestinian step is a constant, thorough and effective campaign against terror. Bush dictated to Sharon some commandments of the "thou shalt not" variety: do not expand settlements, do not leave the outposts in place and do not beef up existing settlements.