- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2001

So Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wont have to worry that another U.S. president will use Israel to try to win a peace prize. While dodging rocks and scraping together a workable national unity government, Mr. Sharon certainly deserves such a reprieve. But he is now faced with a leftover from the Clinton administration: a U.S. commission probing the involvement of Israelis in the violence on the West Bank and Gaza.
Mr. Sharon called the agreement by his predecessor to allow the commission a "historic mistake," and argued that no one had the right to put his country on trial. As unpalatable as the mission may seem to the new Israeli leader, he has little to fear. The Bush administration does not want to play Middle East peace dictator as the Clinton regime did. The commission is only now beginning the fact-finding mission, and regardless of the results, President Bush has assured Mr. Sharon that Washington would not try to force a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians.
This does not mean Mr. Bush will not lean on the longtime U.S. ally to keep a respect for human rights alive, even on the West Bank. Nor does it mean the United States will turn a blind eye if the Sharon administration violates commitments made by Israel to the Palestinians, the United States, or the Israelis. For example, the Bush administration has rightly expressed concern over the decision by the Jerusalem city planning board to approve the construction of an additional 2,800 homes in a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem. The construction would double the number of homes approved for the site.
The expansion would be seen by both the United States and the Palestinians as a unilateral action, a move designed to affect final status issues like borders. Mr. Sharon himself had made an agreement as a foundation to his national unity government that no new settlements would be started. He should keep to this agreement, and not provide Palestinians with another excuse to continue their uprising.
The Bush administrations concern over the expanding settlement does not mean it is casting off an old ally, nor does the existence of a fact-finding commission mean Israel has become criminal. If Israel has done no wrong, Mr. Sharon has no reason to fear facts coming to light.
Just as the United States will continue to push Yasser Arafat to stop treating negotiations like a childs game that can be abandoned or resumed at will, so the administration will also continue to encourage Israel to keep its peace commitments. Lest Mr. Sharons sleep is still disturbed with dreams of the methods of a former administration, he should be assured this administrations encouragement will come not through arm-twisting, but with a hand extended in friendship.


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