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Sharon Government Scrambles As Bush Prepares ‘Road Map’

JERUSALEM — As war clouds thundered over Baghdad and Israelis sealed their rooms with duct tape and plastic sheeting, Prime Minister Sharon and his top advisers were scrambling this week to untangle the growing uncertainty over the local diplomatic fallout of the Iraq crisis.

Israel appeared caught off guard by President Bush’s surprise announcement on Monday that the United States was preparing to publish the much-heralded “road map” to peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Jerusalem’s initial reaction was polite and guarded, but it did not go unnoticed here that the Bush announcement contradicted previous American statements that the road map would be published only at the end of the war on Iraq.

In private conversations, Sharon argued that the future of the peace process hinged on Washington’s handling of the war and its aftermath, and on the possibility, however remote, that Israel would find itself involved. Under these circumstances, he said, it was pointless at this delicate moment to create unneeded tensions between Jerusalem and Washington. Down the road, however, officials were bracing for a possible confrontation.

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