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The recently announced plans for an international conference on the Middle East confront the Bush Administration with a major test of its capacity for international leadership. The question is whether it will establish an agenda for the conference that will bring peace and justice to the region or whether it will allow American and world policy again to be dictated by Ariel Sharon's government. The atrocious suicide bombing near Tel Aviv, which coincided with the Bush-Sharon meeting, must not be allowed to derail international efforts to achieve a political settlement--one that guarantees a viable Palestinian state, which will give Palestinians a stake in peace and in the renunciation of violence.

Given this Administration's track record, the prospects of its standing up to Sharon are not encouraging. Recall the shameful way it allowed him to ignore UN resolutions calling for withdrawal from the West Bank and to stop a fact-finding mission to investigate the destruction of Jenin, despite a Human Rights Watch report adducing evidence that the Israeli forces had committed war crimes--using Palestinians as human shields and wreaking disproportionate destruction on civilian habitations.

Adding to the congenital White House tilt were the one-sided House and Senate resolutions of support for Israel adopted on the eve of Sharon's arrival in Washington. The one in the House, steered through by whip Tom DeLay, echoed the Sharon line that Yasir Arafat isn't a "viable partner for peace." An idea of where DeLay is coming from was provided by his soulmate, GOP majority leader Dick Armey, who told Hardball host Chris Matthews that the Palestinians should be expelled from the West Bank and Gaza. The endorsement of ethnic cleansing by leading conservatives went almost unnoticed by the mainstream media. As Peter DeFazio, one of fifty House members who opposed the resolution, said, DeLay put Congress on record "somewhere to the right of the Likud."

In fact, all of Washington is caught in the iron grip of pro-Likud sentiment, which prevents the United States from acting in the world's interest, let alone its own. …

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