by RAY FLEMING
ARIEL Sharon has plenty of problems on his plate following the rejection by members of his own Likud party of his proposals to abandon Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip. But the person with egg on his face is President George W Bush who went out of his way last month to endorse Mr Sharon's plan. The Israeli prime minister has various options to get himself out of a difficulty of his own making but Mr Bush has none. He had no need to give such unqualified support to Sharon's withdrawal plan nor was it necessary to praise his initiative as “historic”. It is never wise for the leader of one country, however powerful, to get involved in the party politics of another country yet this is exactly what Mr Bush did by backing Mr Sharon's plan before it had been approved by the Likud party. By voting against the plan as they did so decisively on Sunday the party members sent a clear message to President Bush that he should not have interfered in their business - even if by doing so he had hoped to pick up Jewish votes in some key states at the November election.

THE members of the so-called Quartet - the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States - which formulated the road-map peace plan for Israel/Palestine last year were due to hold a meeting in New York today. There now seems little point in doing so: the Bush/Sharon agreement arrived at last month tore up the road map but is itself now waste paper. There is really nothing to talk about until Israel and the US return to the original road map and start all over again.

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