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January 23, 2003

2003 should be an interesting year.

Defense Minister S. Mofaz speaks out in Ha'aretz.

Now Mofaz is carefully examining the calendar, and he sees at the year's end the upcoming election campaign for U.S. president, which will begin in November. Until then, the Americans have a busy agenda in the region. First of all the attack in Iraq, which will last until the end of spring or the beginning of summer, and which will conclude with an effort to prevent chaos and to stabilize the new regime in Baghdad. Then the agenda will include the problems of North Korea and Iran, the other members of the "axis of evil," and the end of 2003 will already have arrived. The defense minister's conclusion: The United States is the motivating force for change in the region, and it has the will and the capability, but the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not be of high priority in the coming months. It's doubtful whether later on, during an election year, the U.S. Administration will make an effort to change the regional environment.

Mofaz is not enthusiastic about the U.S. "road map," but neither is he especially worried about it. The Israeli security apparatus believes the existing drafts are American lip service, meant to placate the Europeans and the Arabs on the road to Iraq. He thinks Israel should stick to three principles: a refusal to negotiate under fire, replacement of the Palestinian leadership and progress dictated by actions rather than dates. In any case, the process will be a long one. Confidence between Israel and the Palestinians has been destroyed, and it will take many stages and interim agreements in order to restore it. In the coming year, Mofaz sees a chance for the beginning of a change, but no more than that. The sun will not suddenly break through in a dramatic change of the situation or an agreement.