I find myself almost pitying George Bush, something I would not have held to be possible. But there you are…
He has had a lot of luck, George Bush. All the big opportunities fall into his lap. But somehow, it all goes wrong.
Somehow, "at the end of the day", as the Americans like to say, everything falls apart.
When it seemed, at the beginning of his term, that everything was stuck, along came Osama Bin-Laden and blew up the Twin Towers. Riding on a huge wave of patriotic fervor, Bush attacked Afghanistan and conquered it with lightning speed, with almost no American casualties, only with smart bombs and suitcases full of dollars.
And then it went pear-shaped. Bin-Laden disappeared. The Taliban chief, too, is nowhere to be found. The country was taken over by gangs of warlords, resulting in total anarchy. The new democratic regime appointed by the Americans is governing one of Kabul's neighborhoods, that's all. Not a shining success.
But never mind. As you say in Hebrew: another places, another chance. Bush attacked Iraq in order to eliminate the weapons of mass destruction, before they could be used against the USA and wipe it out. All the more necessary since Saddam Hussein, as the American people were assured, was a close ally of Bin-Laden and international terrorism.
The military attack was successful beyond expectations. The Iraqi army just melted away. The much vaunted Republican Guards folded up before even seeing an American soldier. Smart bombs and suitcases full of money were enough. In the presence of fifty Iraqis and a hundred reporters, an American armored vehicle pulled down the statue of Saddam. All America saw it and was filled with pride. What a glorious victory!
And then, this time, too, everything went wrong. The celebrated American military had omitted to plan for the day after. A terrible anarchy broke out. The mob plundered all the property of the Iraqi people and the whole infrastructure of society. Hospitals, banks, museums, government offices, water and electricity works - everything, but everything was stolen or destroyed. Not a single screw was left in place.
As if that was not enough, the weapons of mass destruction did not materialize. After the US intelligence community told the world that they knew exactly where they were, what kinds of biological, chemical and nuclear agents, at what places and in what quantities - nothing. Not a single molecule, not a single microbe, not a single isotope. This means that all the statements made to the people and the world were based on crude lies or wild speculation. Unpleasant.
The ominous connection between Saddam and Bin-Laden evaporated, too. Not a single bit of evidence to that effect was found.
And Saddam himself also disappeared without trace, as if he had never existed. The country was left with anarchy and a bad taste in the mouth.
So what's left? The Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
There the situation is the very opposite. The Americans wanted Arafat to disappear, like Bin-Laden, like Saddam. But he did not budge. He is there, and how! So is Hamas. So are the suicide bombers.
The magic wand of George Bush, the peacemaker, lost its power. In one place Palestinian suicide bombers, in another Israeli targeted killings. Daily headlines about people killed - children on both sides, women on both sides.
But Bush desperately needs a success. Therefore he decided to do as his predecessor had done: to intervene personally. After promising himself not to repeat the mistakes of Bill Clinton, he is now compelled to do exactly that.
Clinton threw the whole weight of the US presidency into the scale, in order to enter the pages of history, or at least the list of Nobel Peace Price laureates. He decided to achieve peace in Camp David at any cost. He believed that Ehud Barak would really put on the table an incredibly generous offer. While being himself an accomplished liar [see: Monika], he believed that Barak was telling the truth. He could not imagine that Barak was a liar of genius, in another league altogether. "At the end of the day", Clinton was booed off the stage, miserably humiliated.
His successor is now in danger of the same fate.
George Bush worships Ariel Sharon. He would have liked to be exactly like him: not an combat dodger but a war hero, not Daddy's son but a self-made man, not the owner of a ranch for visitors but an authentic gentleman-farmer who built his ranch with his own hands.
George, it seems, believes Arik. When Arik proclaims his readiness for "painful concessions", he believes him. When Arik announces his agreement to a Palestinian state, he believes him. When Arik accepts the Road Map, he believes him. When Arik seems ready to evacuate settlements and outposts, he believes him. When Arik promises to help Abu-Mazen, he believes him. He cannot imagine that Arik, his friend, his comrade, the upright soldier, will look him in the eye and lie through his teeth.
But Ariel Sharon has no friends, and never had. He has no comrades, and never had. For Sharon, Bush is just another naive American, there to be cheated for the sacred cause of Greater Israel.
George Bush is a religious person. Once he was a confirmed alcoholic, but he has succeeded in exchanging alcohol for God. His friend Tony Blair is religious. His friend Vladimir Putin says that he is religious. Sharon does not believe in the existence of God, but he does believe that God has promised the Holy Land to the children of Israel. So in Bush's eyes, he is a religious person, too, and does no lie.
Sharon would not dream of really dismantling outposts, freezing settlements, agreeing to borders even remotely resembling the pre-1967 Green Line. As long as he is requested to produce only words, all is well. When actions are expected, both Bush and Sharon will face a hard choice.
Sharon's choice: to quarrel with Bush (and that would be a disaster, from his point of view) or to give up his historic mission (a much greater disaster, from his point of view.)
Bush's choice: to fail again and go into the elections as a president who has failed in everything, or to quarrel with Sharon and the entire pro-Israeli lobby, Jewish and Evangelical Christian - which is political poison.
But beyond all this, there is the fact that the most right-wing government Israel has ever had has officially accepted the establishment of a Palestinian state. Even if this is only a tactic, even if the real purpose is to sabotage it, this is a point of no return.
The circle is now complete: the whole world has adopted the two-state vision, including the United States, the Arab world, the Palestinian people and the government of Israel.
This, I must admit, gives me some private satisfaction. 50 years ago, only a handful of us believed in this solution. The whole world was against it. Now this is a world-wide vision. With or without Bush, with or without Sharon, it is on its way.
Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is one of the writers featured in The Other Israel: Voices of Dissent and Refusal.