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NEW MID-EAST BALL GAME

PM Sharon: ‘New Palestinian Leadership Should Start By Halting Official Media Incitement Against Israel’

Analyst David Essing: ‘Israel Soon To Face Gentle Persuasion From U.S. And International Community’

Condoleezza Rice - P.M.Sharon (Photo: Amit Shabi)

One week after Yasser Arafat’s death , all the signs are indicating that a new ball game has begun for Israelis and Palestinians. And the run up to the Palestinian elections scheduled for January will set the stage for what will follow.

:: IsraCast Audio ::

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the new emerging Palestinian leadership are the two teams; the U.S. is chief umpire with the international community refereeing on the bases. We may still be in the warm up stage, but U.S. President George W. Bush is about to shout ‘ Play ball!’.

Ariel Sharon apparently got wind of what is in store; that’s why he is easing up on his demand that Palestinian leaders must first halt the terrorism and dismantle the terrorist organizations before any peace moves. The Prime Minister has offered a good-will gesture to Arafat’s likely successor Muhmoud Abbas by lowering his entry exam for negotiations. Sharon now says first stop the incitement in the Palestinian media and teaching Palestinian kids to hate and kill Israelis.Not that Sharon has given up on the terrorism demand, but that will come later. On the other hand, Palestinian Prime Minister spoke out against the ‘fouda’, or the chaotic rule of the gun in Palestine which nearly shot dead Muhmoud Abbas this week.

As for U.S.President George W. Bush, he has made clear that now is the time to break the log-jam between Israel and the Palestinians. With the new Palestinian players in the game, Bush is sending in a new Secretary of State to shake up the game. During the first Bush term, the war in Iraq and the Mid-East dispute were unconnected and Colin Powell was on the sidelines. No longer. It is obviously an American interest to rebuild bridges with the Europeans in order to work out an exit strategy from Iraq. The recent visit by Britain's Tony Blair to the White House highlighted the linkage.

Not that Bush has altered his no-nonsense approach to terrorism - but apparently he’ll be sending Condoleezza Rice to use some ‘gentle persuasion’ on Sharon to make it easier for the Palestinian ‘moderates’ to take over and start shifting Palestinian society from violence and terrorism to negotiation and compromise. It is no doubt a long shot but Bush will expect everyone to ‘Play ball’. Outgoing Secretary Powell, who lands in the area as a ‘lame duck’ on his way out can also be expected to tell Sharon that Washington is looking at the big picture and shoring up the moderates against the terrorists in the Palestinian is also in Israel’s interest when it comes to winning the global war against terrorism.

For his part, Sharon can say he is doing his part. The unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and four West bank settlements will continue. Moreover, it can turn into a genuine test cast for the Palestinians. If the new leadership shows it means business about halting the terrorism, Israel will be ready to co ordinate the evacuation with the Palestinians. As one senior source puts it: ‘Just imagine where we’d be today if the disengagement was not on the table; there would be massive international pressure to immediately jump start the Roadmap and Israel would be asked to pay at the toll gate’.

But Israel and the Palestinians and the U.S. will not get down to brass tacks until after the new administrations take office in Ramallah and Washington.

David Essing

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