Bush Out on a Limb With Sharon

The historic task of creating peace for Israel and a viable state for Palestinians has now seen two approaches fail within four years. And each one has had the prestige of a US president behind it.

The first was the 1993 Oslo accords, which were a child of Israel's leftist Labor party. That peace plan crash-landed in July 2000 when President Clinton pushed then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak to make difficult concessions that were rejected by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at a Camp David retreat.

Then on Sunday, a bold but dubious plan by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to withdraw troops and Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip while consolidating Israel's hold on West Bank settlements was soundly rejected in a vote by his own right-wing party, Likud.

That plan, which cut the Palestinians out of the loop on their future, was strongly endorsed by President Bush in order to help Mr. Sharon win the vote. But both men have now suffered a big loss. And Mr. Bush only ended up undercutting the war on terrorism in ignoring the Palestinians and thus angering even more Arabs.

Yet despite failures in both these approaches, the extremes - Arafat on one side, and the Jewish settlers and most of Likud on the other - have unwittingly exposed their active opposition to a two-state solution. They both defied an idea that most Israelis and Palestinians want. They can more easily be isolated as obstacles to peace.

Likud, like Arafat, can no longer be counted on to make the necessary concessions. And as the US has decided it can't trust Arafat anymore, it must also think twice about endorsing any peace plan from an Israeli government.

Instead, peace can only be negotiated between courageous moderates on both sides who are corralled by a United States and others acting as honest and evenhanded brokers.

Most Israelis are ready to give up settlements for firm security guarantees from Palestinians. Sharon himself may need to leave office for that to happen or, if he fully embraces the Bush "road map" that even Bush seems to have shelved, he could stay.

Perhaps the slow process of the "road map" can now move ahead more easily with the extreme players isolated. But first Bush must distance himself from Sharon and return to his own plan for peace.

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