- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 17, 2005

If the dismantling of Israeli settlements in Gaza has created “an atmosphere of civil war in Israel,” as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says, the Palestinians now know the Bush administration’s roadmap cannot possibly lead to a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank.

Gaza has always been a no-brainer. Some 8,500 Jewish settlers — in 1,500 families — surrounded by 1.2 million Palestinians and protected by 50,000 Israeli Defense Force troops never had much of a future. They now will receive compensation ranging from $130,000 to $400,000 per family to leave Gaza, beginning in late July through October, and resettle in Israel. Some plan a move to the larger Israeli colonies in the West Bank. Mr. Sharon has also agreed to take down four smaller illegal hilltop outposts in the northern West Bank with no more than 500 settlers. Israel expects the United States to pick up the estimated $750 million compensation and resettlement tab.

By invoking the threat of internecine warfare in Israel, Mr. Sharon signals President Bush to forget about Israel ever evacuating the West Bank to make room for a Palestinian state. In violation of the agreed road map, about 140 settlements with 240,000 Israelis have been stealthily but steadily expanding and Mr. Sharon has made clear they will remain under Israeli sovereignty, irrespective of Palestinian demands.

The construction of 3,500 new homes in the 3-mile corridor to Maale Adumin extends Jerusalem deep into the West Bank and severs the main link between Palestinian towns to the south (Bethlehem) and those to the north (Ramallah). Greater Jerusalem will extend halfway across the West Bank toward Jericho. The “new facts” approved by the government are also designed to sever links between Arab East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and thus pre-empt Palestinian plans to establish their own capital city there.

Arabs traveling from East Jerusalem to West Bank towns need authorizations to get through any gates in the barrier separating Israelis and Palestinians. Very few West Bank Palestinians are given permits to visit East Jerusalem. This seals some 250,000 Palestinians in the Arab quarter. Not by the remotest stretch of the imagination can East Jerusalem become a Palestinian capital.

The larger Israeli settlements will find themselves annexed into Israel proper by the 420-mile, $2 billion electronic ditch-fence-moat that snakes in and out of the West Bank, lopping off about 10 percent of Palestinian lands. In his tenth tete-a-tete with Mr. Sharon — the first at the Bush ranch in Texas — Mr. Bush said he opposed Israel’s expansion of West Bank settlements. This was something every Israeli leader has heard from each American president since Israel conquered the territories in the 1967 Six-Day War. By now, Mr. Sharon assumes the mantra is mostly for Palestinian consumption.

In their 90-minute meeting, the two leaders spent more time on Mr. Sharon’s aerial maps of Iran’s nuclear ambitions than on Mr. Bush’s now faded road map to a Palestinian state. Mr. Sharon showed Mr. Bush what Israel’s Mossad believes are Iran’s nuclear facilities, including the entrance to underground sites, suspected of working on a nuclear weapon to fit the nose cone of medium-range missiles that can reach Israel.

With Mr. Sharon by his side at the Crawford ranch, Mr. Bush said, “I told the prime minister not to undertake any activity that contravenes” the “road map” for peace. Mr. Sharon shifted the focus, insisting that only when Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas dismantles the terror network can negotiations begin based on the road map. Much as he would like to, Mr. Abbas is in no position to control the clandestine activities of Hamas (which pollsters predict will do well in forthcoming legislative elections), Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad. Mr. Sharon knows it will be a miracle if Mr. Abbas can muzzle terrorist activities once the extremists realize plans for a Palestinian state are window-dressing for a house of cards.

Israel will continue consolidating its hold on areas it regards as strategically important. If Gaza can generate a civil war atmosphere, it’s not rocket science to figure out how Israeli settlers, proselytized by rabbis who believe Greater Israel is sacrosanct, will react. Some 15,000 police and soldiers troops are getting special training to handle next summer’s compulsory evacuation.

Mr. Bush may indeed be geopolitically clairvoyant. But the geopolitically challenged cannot see the next step after Gaza, let alone the two-state solution Mr. Bush has embraced. As for Mr. Sharon, when he repeats after Mr. Bush, the need for a “contiguous” Palestinian state, he presumably has his tongue firmly planted in his cheek — and his fingers crossed.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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