History will note the premiership of Ariel Sharon as the pivotal moment when Israel decided that ending control over the Palestinians was in its own, crucial interest. And it was the time that Israel took dramatic unilateral action to pursue that course. Disengagement, defeating terrorism and building the security fence have been essential in cutting the Gordian knot between Israel’s interests and Palestinian political will and capacity.

Negotiation, by contrast, is what unites Sharon’s critics. From the Left, Yossi Beilin contends that, since the contours of a final status agreement are known, all that remains is to seal the deal. From the Right, Binyamin Netanyahu advocates the logic of the quid pro quo — “if they give, they’ll receive” — implying that time is on Israel’s side and the ball is in the Palestinian court.

But what if the Palestinians are unwilling or unable to end the conflict? What if they don’t “give”? Does that mean that Israel will stay in the Palestinian areas indefinitely?

Though a regional economic and military superpower, Israel had been powerless in the world of negotiations to address the clearly identified threat to its survival. The Palestinians had the ability to hold Israel hostage by refusing to agree to any settlement that would end Israel’s occupation.

History teaches that a stand-off between “occupier” and “occupied” leads to one outcome: liberation and independence. The Palestinians had time, or at least they used to have it until disengagement.

Before the summer of 2005, the Israeli public had two choices before it, both of which depended on negotiations. The first was the pursuit of a final status accord that was going to face implacable obstacles. A failure to reach agreement on the status of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem also would mean no agreements on economics, security or civic issues. The other option was the U.S.-backed “road map” — a sequenced approach to establish a Palestinian state in provisional borders before a Permanent Status Agreement.

Over the past few years, both tracks seemed doomed to deadlock. Profound disagreements on content and structure, the weakness of the Israeli political system and a dysfunctional Palestinian leadership all blocked a permanent accord. The roadmap also seemed stuck due to disagreements on the entry point, and on each of its phases. It is these perceived deadlocks that have legitimized Israeli unilateralism, transforming it into a compelling option.

The powerful logic of disengagement is that it has partially ended Israeli control over the Palestinians without their consent, but with U.S. endorsement and in coordination with other relevant third parties. This combination has galvanized international support and disarmed Palestinian opposition.

The secret of the successful execution of the Gaza disengagement — and an essential part of its logic — relates to Israel’s internal politics. Sharon succeeded in bridging the gap between the requisites of a deal with the Palestinians, on the one hand, and the positions and perceptions of the Israeli mainstream, on the other.

Sharon decided to focus on the latter, designing disengagement around the “stomach” of the Israeli public. He understood that support for disengagement would be solid because it is perceived as good for Israel even under fire and with no reciprocity. At the same time, Sharon understood that expanding disengagement too far might compromise public support, so he rejected all temptations and pressures to go further or to negotiate.

Sharon assumed that politicians would follow the public. He was right.

Disengagement was just the first step of Sharon’s strategy. His public statements reveal that he was seeking to create a new Israeli-Palestinian equilibrium based on five tenets: ending Israeli control over the Palestinians with international recognition; creating a Palestinian state in provisional borders that will assume control over its territory and population; securing Israeli control over issues critical to its national security, such as the airspace; designing a new framework for reaching permanent status; and beginning to permanently resolve the refugee issue within the Palestinian state.

In the apparent absence of a Palestinian “partner,” Sharon’s strategy would have required further unilateral withdrawals. The logic of disengagement may have not been exhausted. For example, under the new unilateralist paradigm, Israel can dismantle isolated settlements and illegal outposts or transfer the Palestinian neighborhoods in north Jerusalem — which are already outside the security fence — to the PA. More powers and responsibilities could be transferred to the PA in the spheres of economics, civic affairs or diplomacy. Eventually, Israel might consider recognizing the PA as a state.

Palestinian statehood has been incorporated into Sharon’s strategy for years. His statements suggest that he may have perceived Palestinian statehood to be as much an opportunity as it was a threat. For example, he assumed that the existence of a Palestinian state would mean that Palestinians could no longer claim to be refugees and that powers of UNRWA, the United Nation’s agency with jurisdiction over matters pertaining to Palestinian refugees, could be turned over to the Palestinian government.

A Palestinian state, furthermore, is a precondition for restructuring the approach toward final status. Once a Palestinian state exists, Israel would be able to negotiate multiple state-to-state agreements focused primarily on the West Bank and Gaza. These agreements might be made piecemeal, rather than holding all progress hostage to a potential comprehensive accord.

Sharon’s strategy to end control over Palestinians enhanced unity within Israel and the Jewish world, boosted Israel’s international standing and offered the only feasible path out of the deadlock. That is his enduring legacy. But he also exits the political stage as the exemplar of pragmatism and realism focused on the pillars of Israel’s national security: preserving a Jewish majority, fighting the nuclear threat, securing personal safety, and bolstering Israel’s alliance with America. This is the consensus agenda that Sharon galvanized into a political force that will transcend his tenure.

By taking the excruciating and courageous step of distancing himself from political and personal friends and allies, as well as, ultimately, from his own political party, Sharon plunged himself and the nation through two years of constant crisis-management toward disengagement and beyond. He demonstrated an outstanding leadership, political skills and executive management. This performance extended beyond security to socio-economics as well.

Many may challenge the logic of disengagement or the wisdom of Sharon’s socioeconomic policies. Few would contest that a large part of his legacy was the capacity to get things done.

Gidi Grinstein is founder and president of the Re’ut Institute (

Israeli Government Gets on With It

Israel is resigning itself to politics without Ariel Sharon.

Shock gripped the Jewish state last week when Sharon was hospitalized with a massive stroke, turning to fears for the worst when he underwent repeated surgery.

Doctors said it could take time to ascertain whether Sharon had suffered cognitive damage or permanent paralysis on the left side of his body from the Jan. 4 stroke. At press time, it also was not certain that Sharon would recuperate at all — his condition was such that it could deteriorate at any moment.

Still, a prognosis took shape whereby Sharon could survive but in a form of forced retirement. Sharon’s chief surgeon, Dr. Jose Cohen, said this week that Sharon had a “very high” chance of surviving.

“He is a very strong man, and he is getting the best care,” the Jerusalem Post quoted Cohen as saying. “He will not continue to be prime minister, but maybe he will be able to understand and to speak.”

As the prime minister lay in a post-operative coma Sunday, his temporary replacement, acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, chaired the weekly Cabinet meeting.

“We hope that the prime minister will recover, gain strength and with God’s help will return to run the government of Israel and lead the State of Israel,” Olmert said.

While noting that doctors’ reports from Jerusalem’s Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center at Ein Kerem had given a “glimmer of hope” as to Sharon’s chances of recuperating, Olmert said matters of state were as robust as ever.

“We will continue to fulfill Arik’s will and to run things as he wished,” he said, using Sharon’s nickname. “Israeli democracy is strong, and all of the systems are working in a stable, serious and responsible manner. This is just as it should be and how it shall continue.”

With general elections looming on March 28, the 60-year-old Olmert has his hands full. But he received an early show of support with a weekend phone call from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

There was also an internal reprieve from the Likud Party, which decided against resigning from the government, reversing a decision made before Sharon suffered his stroke last week.

“Now is not the time for such moves,” Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, one of four Cabinet members from the Likud, told Army Radio.

A Channel 10 television survey issued after Sharon was stricken predicted that his new centrist party, Kadima, would take 40 of the Knesset’s 120 seats in the election if it is led by Olmert. But analysts suggested the showing reflected short-term public sympathy.

The political correspondent for the newspaper Ha’aretz, Aluf Benn, recalled the aftermath of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995, when opinion polls showed his successor, Shimon Peres, as a clear favorite for re-election. In the end, Benjamin Netanyahu defeated Peres by the slimmest of margins.

“Instead of presenting himself as pressing ahead with Rabin’s path, Peres made the mistake of insisting that he was an autonomous candidate,” Benn said, suggesting Olmert, the former mayor of Jerusalem, was wise to portray himself as a reluctant stand-in for Sharon.

Yet the Channel 10 survey found that Peres, should he lead Kadima, would perform better than Olmert, taking 42 Knesset seats.

Though Peres quit the Labor Party last year to back Sharon, he has yet to formally join Kadima. But he voiced support for Olmert, who advanced the idea of a unilateral Israeli pullout from occupied Gaza prior to Sharon’s public embrace of the strategy.

“He supported the policies of Mr. Sharon and even occasionally was ahead of him,” Peres told Britain’s Sky Television. “The policies for peace, the continuation of the policies of Sharon, will have my full support.”


Sowing Islamic Seeds in Students

Chairs are lined up in neat rows. Coffee is brewing, muffins arrayed. The table is thick with handouts.

One of them is Saudi Aramco World, a magazine published by Aramco, the Saudi government-owned outfit that is the largest oil company in the world.

“The Arab World in the Classroom,” published by Georgetown University, thanks Saudi Aramco on its back cover. Alongside it is the brochure of The Mosaic Foundation, an organization of spouses of Arab ambassadors in America, whose chairwoman and president of the board of trustees is Her Royal Highness Princess Haifa Al-Faisal of the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia.

If you think this is a meeting of Saudi oil executives or Middle Eastern exporters or Saudi government officials, you are wrong: It’s a social studies training seminar for American elementary and secondary teachers, held last year at Georgetown University.

It’s paid for by U.S. tax dollars, as the organizer points out in her introduction.

“We are grateful to the grant we have under Title VI of the Department of Education that underwrites these programs,” Zeina Azzam Seikaly, outreach coordinator of Georgetown’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, tells the more than three dozen current and former teachers at the seminar.

Georgetown’s Middle East outreach program is one of 18 affiliated with federally designated national resource centers, each of which receives hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funds under Title VI of the Higher Education Act.

Much has been written about the biased nature of Middle East studies programs at universities around the country.

Less known is that with public money and the designation as a national resource center, universities such as Georgetown, Harvard and Columbia are dramatically influencing the study of Islam, Israel and the Middle East far beyond the college campus.

As a condition of their funding, these centers are also required to engage in public outreach, which includes schoolchildren in Grades K-12. Through professional development workshops for teachers and resource libraries, they spread teaching materials that analysts say promote Islam and are critical of Israel and the West.

Georgetown’s outreach and the materials it disseminates are singled out for special praise by Dar al Islam.

Its Web site lists four other outreach centers it admires: the University of California at Berkeley, Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan.

Professional development workshops like the one at Georgetown provide the most frequent paths for the dissemination of supplementary materials to history and social studies teachers, according to education expert Sandra Stotsky’s “The Stealth Curriculum: Manipulating America’s History Teachers.”

The problems with many of the supplemental materials, Stotsky said in her report, stem from “the ideological mission of the organizations that create them.

“Their ostensible goal is to combat intolerance, expand students’ knowledge of other cultures, give them other ‘points of view’ on commonly studied historical phenomena and/or promote ‘critical thinking,'” she wrote.

But an analysis of the materials convinced her that their real goal “is to influence how children come to understand and think about current social and political issues by bending historical content to those ends.

“They embed their political agendas in the instructional materials they create so subtly that apolitical teachers are unlikely to spot them.”

Among the materials Stotsky cites is “The Arab World Studies Notebook,” which has been widely criticized for bias, inaccuracies and proselytizing.

Two school districts have banned the book, and the AJC has urged others to follow suit.

“Notebook” editor Audrey Shabbas rejects the criticism.

“We’re providing the Arab point of view,” she said.

Responding to criticism that the material paints an overly rosy picture of Islam, she said, “My task is not to defend what Muslims do in the world” but to focus on the “difference between what people call themselves and what they do.”

Experts say the materials are popular because they’re recommended by the national resource centers of prestigious universities.

In an interview with JTA, Stotsky recounted that in the summer of 2002, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Massachusetts Department of Education decided to offer a seminar on Islam and the Middle East for area teachers. They accepted a proposal from Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies that “looked very promising.” One of the organizers of the seminar was Barbara Petzen, the center’s outreach coordinator.

But when Stotsky and other officials saw the syllabus, which included the “Arab World Studies Notebook,” they requested that the course present a more balanced view of Islam. Officials wanted at least to include a book by Bernard Lewis, a Princeton University professor emeritus who is considered one of the pre-eminent authorities on Islam.

But Petzen and her colleague “ducked recent history” by agreeing only to include one of Lewis’ older books from the 1970s, rather than one of his more recent critical perspectives on Islam, Stotsky said.

Petzen could not be reached for comment.

Stotsky was further shocked when she saw the lesson plans created by some of the seminar participants. One, which required the students to learn an Islamic prayer and design a prayer rug to simulate a mosque in the classroom, crossed the line. “It’s really indoctrination to have students do such religious things,” she said.

While there is no way to know the extent to which the teachers from 20 Massachusetts schools ultimately incorporated their proposed lessons into the classroom, the assumption of the Education Department, which paid for the seminar, “is that the teachers use the material they learned,” Stotsky said.

In New York City, meanwhile, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has barred the head of Columbia University’s Middle East Institute from lecturing to city teachers enrolled in professional development courses on the Middle East.

Klein’s move in February against Rashid Khalidi, who holds the Edward Said Chair at Columbia, was in response to “a number of things he’s said in the past,” said Michael Best, the department’s general counsel, according to The New York Times.

Khalidi declined to comment on the issue.

A spokesman for Klein said last week that “nothing has changed” in Khalidi’s status, meaning that he still is barred from lecturing at teacher-training seminars.

For Stotsky, a major problem with the teacher-training seminars is the lack of oversight.

“What teacher or principal is going to challenge [material that comes] “with the sterling credentials of Harvard?” she said.

While she doesn’t claim to have all the answers, Stotsky recommends halting public funding for professional development until there is “strong evidence that most history teachers learn something useful from a majority of workshops they attend.”



Tainted Teachings

Leaders Stay Silent as Israel Collapses

The Zionist revolution has always rested on two pillars: a just path and an ethical leadership. Neither of these is operative any longer.

The Israeli nation today rests on a scaffolding of corruption and on foundations of oppression and injustice. As such, the end of the Zionist enterprise is already on our doorstep.

There is a real chance that ours will be the last Zionist generation. There may yet be a Jewish State here, but it will be a different sort, strange and ugly.

There is time to change course, but not much. What is needed is a new vision of a just society and the political will to implement it.

Nor is this merely an internal Israeli affair. Diaspora Jews, for whom Israel is a central pillar of their identity, must pay heed and speak out. If the pillar collapses, the upper floors will come crashing down.

The opposition does not exist, and the coalition, with Ariel Sharon at its head, claims the right to remain silent. In a nation of chatterboxes, everyone has suddenly fallen dumb, because there’s nothing left to say.

We live in a thunderously failed reality. Yes, we have revived the Hebrew language, created a marvelous theater and a strong national currency. Our Jewish minds are as sharp as ever. We are traded on the Nasdaq.

But is this why we created a state? The Jewish people did not survive for two millennia in order to pioneer new weaponry, computer security programs or antimissile missiles. We were supposed to be a light unto the nations. In this we have failed.

It turns out that the 2,000-year struggle for Jewish survival comes down to a state of settlements run by an amoral clique of corrupt lawbreakers who are deaf both to their citizens and to their enemies. A state lacking justice cannot survive.

More and more Israelis are coming to understand this as they ask their children where they expect to live in 25 years. Children who are honest admit to their parents’ shock that they do not know. The countdown to the end of Israeli society has begun.

It is very comfortable to be a Zionist in West Bank settlements such as Beit El and Ofra. The biblical landscape is charming. From the window you can gaze through the geraniums and bougainvilleas and not see the occupation.

Traveling on the fast highway that takes you from Ramot on Jerusalem’s northern edge to Gilo on the southern edge, a 12-minute trip that skirts barely a half-mile west of the Palestinian roadblocks, it’s hard to comprehend the humiliating experience of the despised Arab, who must creep for hours along the pocked, blockaded roads assigned to him — one road for the occupier, one road for the occupied.

This cannot work. Even if the Arabs lower their heads and swallow their shame and anger forever, it won’t work. A structure built on human callousness will inevitably collapse in on itself.

Note this moment well: Zionism’s superstructure is already collapsing like a cheap Jerusalem wedding hall. Only madmen continue dancing on the top floor while the pillars below are collapsing.

We have grown accustomed to ignoring the suffering of the women at the roadblocks. No wonder we don’t hear the cries of the abused woman living next door or the single mother struggling to support her children in dignity. We don’t even bother to count the women murdered by their husbands.

Israel, having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians, should not be surprised when they come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centers of Israeli escapism. They consign themselves to Allah in our places of recreation, because their own lives are torture. They spill their own blood in our restaurants in order to ruin our appetites, because they have children and parents at home who are hungry and humiliated.

We could kill a thousand ringleaders and engineers a day and nothing will be solved, because the leaders come up from below — from the wells of hatred and anger, from the infrastructures of injustice and moral corruption.

If all this were inevitable, divinely ordained and immutable, I would be silent. But things could be different, and so crying out is a moral imperative.

Here is what the prime minister should say to the people:

The time for illusions is over. The time for decisions has arrived. We love the entire land of our forefathers, and in some other time, we would have wanted to live here alone. But that will not happen. The Arabs, too, have dreams and needs.

Between the Jordan and the Mediterranean there is no longer a clear Jewish majority. And so, fellow citizens, it is not possible to keep the whole thing without paying a price.

We cannot keep a Palestinian majority under an Israeli boot and at the same time, think ourselves the only democracy in the Middle East. There cannot be democracy without equal rights for all who live here, Arab as well as Jew. We cannot keep the territories and preserve a Jewish majority in the world’s only Jewish State — not by means that are humane and moral and Jewish.

Do you want the Greater Land of Israel? No problem. Abandon democracy. Let’s institute an efficient system of racial separation here, with prison camps and detention villages — Qalqilya Ghetto and Gulag Jenin.

Do you want a Jewish majority? No problem. Either put the Arabs on railway cars, buses, camels and donkeys and expel them en masse, or separate ourselves from them absolutely, without tricks and gimmicks.

There is no middle path. We must remove all the settlements — all of them — and draw an internationally recognized border between the Jewish national home and the Palestinian national home. The Jewish Law of Return will apply only within our national home, and their right of return will apply only within the borders of the Palestinian state.

Do you want democracy? No problem. Either abandon the Greater Land of Israel, to the last settlement and outpost, or give full citizenship and voting rights to everyone, including Arabs. The result, of course, will be that those who did not want a Palestinian state alongside us will have one in our midst, via the ballot box.

That’s what the prime minister should say to the people. He should present the choices forthrightly: Jewish racialism or democracy. Settlements or hope for both peoples. False visions of barbed wire, roadblocks and suicide bombers or a recognized international border between two states and a shared capital in Jerusalem.

But there is no prime minister in Jerusalem. The disease eating away at the body of Zionism has already attacked the head. David Ben-Gurion sometimes erred, but he remained straight as an arrow. When Menachem Begin was wrong, nobody impugned his motives.

No longer. Polls published recently showed that a majority of Israelis do not believe in the personal integrity of the prime minister — yet they trust his political leadership. In other words, Israel’s current prime minister personally embodies both halves of the curse: suspect personal morals and open disregard for the law — combined with the brutality of occupation and the trampling of any chance for peace. This is our nation; these its leaders. The inescapable conclusion is that the Zionist revolution is dead.

Why, then, is the opposition so quiet? Perhaps because it’s summer, or because they are tired, or because some would like to join the government at any price, even the price of participating in the sickness. But while they dither, the forces of good lose hope.

This is the time for clear alternatives. Anyone who declines to present a clear-cut position — black or white — is in effect collaborating in the decline. It is not a matter of Labor vs. Likud or right vs. left, but of right vs. wrong, acceptable vs. unacceptable, the law-abiding vs. the lawbreakers.

What’s needed is not a political replacement for the Sharon government but a vision of hope, an alternative to the destruction of Zionism and its values by the deaf, dumb and callous.

Israel’s friends abroad — Jewish and non-Jewish alike, presidents and prime ministers, rabbis and lay people — should choose as well. They must reach out and help Israel to navigate the road map toward our national destiny as a light unto the nations and a society of peace, justice and equality.

Avraham Burg was speaker of Israel’s Knesset from 1999 to 2003 and is a former chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel. He is currently a Labor Party Knesset member. This essay, adapted by the author from an article that appeared in Yediot Aharonot, originally appeared in The Forward ( Translated by J.J. Goldberg.

Is America Ready for a Jewish President?

Is America ready for a Jewish president?

According to a Gallup Poll released this month, as well as other polling data, the answer is a resounding yes.

Despite this polling data, some Jews are fearful that "America is not ready" for a Jewish president. Or in a variation on that theme, they suggest inferentially, because Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) — the candidate in question — is Jewish, "he can’t win."

Funny, though, the facts suggest precisely the opposite. The Gallup Poll concluded that nine out of 10 Americans would vote for a qualified candidate, regardless of religion. Americans are embracing the candidacy of Lieberman with such enthusiasm that he continues to lead in the national polls.

Because of our history, American Jews have had reason to worry about anti-Semitism and scapegoating, but we have also worked to break down barrier after barrier in virtually every aspect of American life.

Today, we have the opportunity to break down perhaps the most important barrier: that a Jew cannot be elected president of the United States. And ironically, the skepticism on this issue comes not from non-Jews but from Jews.

Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000, who, by all accounts significantly strengthened the Democratic ticket and assisted the ticket in winning not only the popular vote but competing (perhaps winning) in the southern stronghold of Florida, has garnered the support of a broad range of Americans who believe he is the best candidate for the presidency in 2004. He is leading in national polls among non-Jews and Jews alike, but the idea of a Jewish president seems to scare some Jews.

Leaders throughout America, including leading non-Jewish political leaders, actively embrace Lieberman’s candidacy. In California, several of these leaders are Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, Rep. Calvin M. Dooley (D-Fresno), Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher (D-Walnut Creek) and Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Modesto).

And Lieberman is leading in the national polls. He is leading in states as diverse as California, New York, Michigan and South Carolina. He is rightly seen as the Democratic candidate most likely to beat President Bush, because he combines a strongly progressive social record with a record of leadership on national security and homeland defense.

Yet, we hear in our own community the question: Is it good for the Jews?

The answer is unequivocally yes. We have Jewish officeholders at all levels of our government — local, state and national — and their leadership has helped to insure not only Jewish inclusion but respected leadership throughout America. When a highly capable and respected leader who is Jewish seeks the office of the president, he should be judged on his merits.

Today’s polling numbers, contrasted with those as recently as 1960, suggest that America is, indeed, ready for a Jewish president. In 1960, when American voters were polled on whether they would vote for a Catholic presidential candidate, only 71 percent said yes, while 21 percent said no. John F. Kennedy won.

Today, the same question about a Catholic candidate garners a response rate of 92 percent yes and only 4 percent no. Interestingly enough, those are substantially the same numbers the pollsters get when asking if people would vote for a Jewish candidate for president.

Obviously, this polling is not exact. But in light of the 1960 benchmark, it is compelling. Other types of polling reinforce this conclusion.

And although no one should vote for Lieberman — or anyone else for that matter — simply because he is Jewish, it would be distressing if members of our community elected to vote against the senator out of fear because he is Jewish, despite their view that he is the strongest and best candidate.

Just as Jackie Robinson inspired not only African Americans but all Americans of my generation as a "revolutionary in a baseball uniform," Lieberman is right now doing the same thing: breaking down another important barrier that will open doors for Jews and for members of all other minority groups, who will have an easier time traveling down this path, because he was courageous enough to lead.

As Lieberman has said, "Have faith in America."

Americans today will support the candidate they prefer on the merits. That is how the choice should be made.

Mel Levine served as a Democratic Congressman from California between 1983 and 1993. He is now a partner in the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and is assisting Sen. Joseph Lieberman in his presidential campaign.

Sharon’s Dilemma: Which Peace Move?

It has become a familiar equation: Hope for progress toward peace leads not to a drop in Palestinian terror attacks but to their acceleration. Throughout the 1990s, Palestinian terrorists often tried to sabotage the peace process by stepping up their attacks whenever progress seemed likely.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon finds himself in a quandary: Does he halt recent momentum toward peace talks until the new Palestinian Authority prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, proves that he is willing to confront the terror groups? Or, as the international community is demanding, does Israel make concessions to show Palestinians that Abbas’ stated opposition to terror can pay dividends?

With Abbas in office less than a month, members of Sharon’s inner circle already are expressing doubts about whether the Palestinian can deliver. They believe the concessions that they already have made toward Abbas — such as easing restrictions on Palestinians’ movement in the West Bank — directly contributed to the renewed wave of attacks.

Senior Palestinian officials argue that Sharon has yet to give the embattled Abbas the concessions he needs to persuade Palestinian terrorists to agree to a cease-fire that could breathe life into the "road map" to Israeli-Palestinian peace, which the United States presented to the two sides late last month. On both sides, there is uncertainty over how much time and energy the United States is prepared to invest to make the road map work.

Sharon had hoped that Abbas’ installation on April 29 would presage a drop in Palestinian terror and at least some initial political movement. But a new wave of suicide bombings, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s incessant machinations against Abbas and open defiance of Abbas by terrorist groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade have led Israeli officials privately to pronounce Abbas too weak to deal with Palestinian terrorism or take the peace process forward.

Arafat and the terrorists are using the bombings not only to hit at Israel but also to make Abbas’ position untenable, the officials say. Abbas "finds himself in an awkward position that the man who appears to be in charge there, Yasser Arafat, is in collusion with the terrorist organizations, because he has a common interest to make the peace talks fail," explained Avi Pazner an Israeli government spokesman.

In a three-hour meeting between the two prime ministers May 17, the first at such a high level since the Palestinian intifada erupted in September 2000, Sharon offered to withdraw Israeli troops from the northern Gaza Strip, allowing Abbas’ forces to take control and show that they could maintain peace and quiet.

Over the last several months, the area has been used to fire Kassam rockets and mortar shells at nearby Israeli towns and villages, especially the Negev town of Sderot. It also is the area in which Mohammed Dahlan, the new Palestinian Authority minister responsible for security, is strongest.

Sharon also offered to withdraw from Palestinian city centers as soon as Abbas and Dahlan felt ready to take over.

In both cases, Israeli officials said, the Palestinians "found excuses" to decline, insisting that Israel formally accept the road map first.

These exchanges reveal a fundamental difference in approach: Sharon wants to see Abbas taking over wherever possible and, if necessary, using force to impose his will on the terrorists. Abbas says he is not yet strong enough and wants to bring about an end to terror through an agreement, rather than confrontation, with the terrorist groups.

The renewed attacks don’t "mean that Sharon won’t meet with Abbas again, but you will certainly understand that you can have no meaningful progress as long as blood is running in the streets," Pazner said.

Abbas urged Sharon to give him time to negotiate a hudna, or cease-fire, with the terrorist groups, saying he could succeed if Israel stopped its counterterror raids and targeted killings of terrorist leaders. What he had in mind was a yearlong cease-fire that would allow Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate without the threat or use of force, Abbas explained.

Dahlan added that it would take about a year to rehabilitate the Palestinian Authority security forces, after which they would be in a position to force the militants to adhere to an extended cease-fire. Until the Abbas meeting, Sharon had opposed this approach on the grounds that the militants would simply use the cease-fire to regroup before launching a new round of terror.

However, Palestinian sources said Sharon intimated at the meeting that if a cease-fire is achieved, he would be ready to give the approach a chance. If true, this constitutes a major change in the Israeli position.

Sharon’s dilemma is how to continue fighting terror without undermining Abbas to such an extent that he will be too weak either to negotiate a cease-fire or use force against terrorists.

Getting the balance right will not be easy: If Israel continues targeted killings and major raids, Palestinians may see Abbas as a straw man who has not eased their suffering. If Sharon holds back, on the other hand, Hamas may be encouraged to launch even bigger attacks on the assumption that Israel will not retaliate.

Another major Israeli dilemma is what to do about Arafat. His alleged role in encouraging terror and deliberately undermining Abbas has led to renewed calls for his expulsion. Three government ministers from Sharon’s Likud Party — Dan Naveh, Yisrael Katz and Tzachi Hanegbi — maintain that there will be no effective cease-fire as long as Arafat is around.

Sharon for now is against expelling Arafat. In a Cabinet meeting March 18, Sharon, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, army chief of staff, argued that Arafat would be more dangerous jetting around Europe playing for international sympathy than confined to his headquarters in Ramallah.

More than Arafat, though, it is the ongoing terror that constitutes the biggest threat to the road map and Abbas’ chances of success. According to Israeli security officials, there have been almost 50 attempted attacks in the three weeks since Abbas took office. Five attacks in a space of two days early this week left 11 Israelis dead and scores wounded.

Hamas terror threatens not only Israel and the road map but Abbas himself, especially after some Hamas leaders charged that Abbas is considering trading the Palestinian refugees’ demand to return to homes they abandoned inside Israel 55 years ago for Israeli acceptance of the road map.

Osama Hamdan, a Hamas representative in Lebanon, issued an open threat last weekend: "Anyone who bargains over the refugees’ right of return is bargaining over his neck."

Given the new wave of terror, many Israeli and Palestinian analysts agree that only a major U.S. effort can save the road map, and they are not optimistic. Reuven Paz, an expert on fundamentalist terror at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, said that "without a strong American lead, there will simply be more of the same: terror, counterterror and indecisive meetings between Sharon and Abbas."

Other Israeli pundits argue that Sharon willingness to cancel a crucial meeting this week with President Bush because of the bombings does not augur well. They believe it shows that Sharon, worried about possible U.S. pressure on the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, is stalling — and that Bush, with an eye on the Jewish vote as he moves into an election year, may allow Sharon to go on playing for time.