I thought a couple weeks ago that when Bush endorsed a permanent Israeli settler presence in the West Bank (which was cannily hidden in the language of "I endorse a pullout of all of the Gaza Strip, and, um, SOME of the West Bank!"), this was a much bigger story than anyone realized. Going back on 40 years of existing U.S./Israeli policy once again made us look like liars and thieves to the Arab world. Worse, it gave Sharon the gumption to start changing other policies, for instance, his claim that he is "no longer bound" to by prohibitions against assassinating Yassir Arafat, which would be as much a flintspark to starting WWIII as the killing of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was to starting WWI. The Arab/Israeli conflict has everything to do with the "war on terror," for the radicalization of Islam is directly tied to its hatred of policies that punish and oppress Muslims. If the US really wanted to install an Arab democracy that could be a beacon to the world, it should have started in Palestine, not Iraq.
Which makes today's overwhelming defeat of the US-backed Gaza pullout plan about the only good news we've seen in the Middle East in what seems like the entire millennium. I see it as the end of Sharon's stranglehold on power in the Knesset, though he survived a no-confidence vote. What's interesting about it is that it came from Sharon's own party members, and really it was an attack from his right, with the foregrounded issue being the Gaza pullout. But the message this would have sent, that there will be a permanent Israeli presence in occupied lands, a presence that would undermine efforts to ever achieve a two-state solution, means that sometimes friends must come from the lowest places.
Both sides of the process are as distrustful and intractable as ever, which stands to reason in the absence of any meaningful world leadership. Palestine sees only the US concessions to a permanent settler presence, Israel sees only continuing terror attacks and neglects their policy implications in them. It's been over three years since we've been on any kind of road to peace in this depressing situation, and it gets all the more depressing when from the sidelines, you cheer for a far-right dictate of support for settlers in occupied lands.
This is the greatest threat to world peace that there is. It shares common cause with al Qaeda, and continuing violence and oppression will just give an endless flow of suicide bombers and support to their side. At least this huge defeat for Sharon might allow the winds of "enough is enough" to blow slowly through Jerusalem, where (since Washington won't do a damn thing) the only hope for an eventual solution resides. If the Likudniks are as out of touch with the populace as it seems (a poll showed 60% of all Israelis favored the pullout in Gaza, but under 40% of the Likud voted voted for it), maybe the collapse of Sharon will coincide with the collapse of the ideology of oppression.