When Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visits with President Bush next week, he will ask a question on the minds of many Israelis: What if the "road map" for peace fails?
While Mr. Sharon will reaffirm his government's commitment to seeking ways to make the U.S.-backed plan work, the increasing evidence that the Palestinians are unable or unwilling to keep their end of the bargain is raising the obvious question of what to do if the peace efforts collapse.
This issue was raised during a recent visit to Washington by Israel's former minister of internal security, Uzi Landau.
To date, it seems, none of the four architects of the so-called road map — the United Nations, the European Union, Russia and the United States — has given much thought to the prospect of failure.
They appear more interested in meeting their own self-imposed road-map deadlines than in the realities on the ground. Yet it is the realities, not the deadlines, that will ultimately determine success or failure.
For example, the United States, which declared last year that it would no longer deal with Yasser Arafat, is turning a blind eye to the reality that Mr. Arafat is continuing to call the shots. And all four sponsors of the road map are ignoring the reality that the Palestinians have refused to disarm their terrorist organizations, one of the plan's most urgent requirements.
The Palestinian leadership claims it is powerless to disarm the terrorists or dismantle their infrastructure, as called for by the road map. Instead of insisting that they comply, the sponsors are taking the easier route: pressuring Israel to make even more concessions than called for in the plan.
So far, while the Palestinians have done little or nothing, Israel has withdrawn troops from parts of Gaza and the West Bank, dismantled dozens of unauthorized settlements, eased roadblocks and other travel restrictions, released hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and offered to pay the Palestinian government millions of tax dollars.
Instead of reciprocating, the Palestinians say they can't move forward unless Israel does more. They are now calling for the release of all prisoners, including known terrorists and murderers, faster dismantling of Jewish settlements, further withdrawal of Israeli troops and removal of all restrictions on Yasser Arafat.
These demands are accompanied by threats from the Palestinian terrorist leaders that unless Israel complies, they will resume their suicide bombings against Israeli civilians.
This is not the way it was supposed to be. The demands go well beyond the road map.
Yet incredibly, the other road map sponsors — the European Union, Russia and the United Nations — are providing the Palestinians with public support on these issues.
Worse, they have declared that they intend to continue to deal directly with Mr. Arafat as the recognized leader of the Palestinians, regardless of the wishes of the United States and Israel and of the many Palestinian moderates who are sick of Mr. Arafat's corruption.
By conferring this recognition on Mr. Arafat, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia seriously undermine the authority of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to conduct further negotiations with Israel, thereby making the chances of success far less likely. In effect, they are torpedoing their own road map.
At the same time, they appear to be deliberately snubbing Mr. Bush, who has declared that the United States will not deal with Mr. Arafat and has demanded that the terrorists be disarmed and their infrastructure dismantled. They also insult Israel, without whom, needless to say, no progress can be made.
Ariel Sharon is well aware of the politics involved, and the desire of the United States to not only bring peace to the Middle East, but to improve its still strained relations with Europe. He will tell Mr. Bush that he will continue to do all he can to make the road map work.
But he will also remind the president that his primary responsibility is the security of the Israeli people. Neither he nor any other Israeli leader can compromise on this. They cannot be expected to make concession after concession without any indication that the Palestinians are willing or able to move against the terrorists, or seriously undertake any of the other obligations they undertook when they signed the road map.
And he will make it clear that unless things change, the road map is as good as dead.
Does the United States have a fallback plan?
It should. As things are going, it will almost certainly need one.