An editorial / By Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service
As pleasant as that gathering is likely to be, Bush faces a test of his credibility in the Mideast. His road map to peace flatly says there shall be no expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank.
Now the Sharon government has confirmed plans to build 3,650 new homes in its largest West Bank settlement and, in doing so, cut off West Bank Palestinians from that part of East Jerusalem they hope to make their new capital.
Asked what he planned to say to Sharon, Bush said, "Our position is very clear that the road map is important, and the road map calls for no expansion of the settlements." It will be interesting how forcefully he states that proposition in Crawford.
He must also deal with another issue: Whether the Israelis will raze the settlements left behind when the government evacuates 9,000 Israeli settlers from Gaza. The Israeli government says it hasn't decided whether to dismantle the settlements or leave them for the Palestinians.
Emotionally, it's understandable that the Israelis might want to demolish the settlements and the Palestinians aren't in a position to give them anything in return, but it would be a spiteful, wasteful gesture.
Since the United States is committed to financially aiding both sides, Washington could be in the position of subsidizing the Israelis to wreck them and then helping the Palestinians pay for their rebuilding.
Sharon has shown great political courage in ramming through an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Israel estimates the evacuation and resettlement farther up the Mediterranean coast will cost $1 billion, and officials have said they would like the United States to pay for half of it.
We would say $500 million gives Bush a wee bit of leverage in the Crawford meeting.
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com