Don't waste your time fretting over the fortunes of the "road map" to peace in the Middle East. It's all a fraud, following the contours of all the other frauds down the years, back to such museum pieces as the Rogers Plan, conceived in Nixon time.

The recipe is unvarying. The Palestinians are required to pledge that they will instantly abandon all vestiges of resistance to Israel's onslaughts on their persons, children, houses, land, crops, water, trees, livestock, roads, schools, universities, graveyards and public buildings.

In return Israel agrees that a few years down the road the government of Israel will begin to ponder the outlines of a dim possibility of formal ratification as a Palestinian statelet of whatever tiny sliver of territory they haven't already appropriated.

Amid choruses of approbation for its courage from Israel's vast lobby of politicians and opinion makers in the United States, Israel gouges a couple of extra billion out of Uncle Sam and gets on with the day-to-day business of making life hell for Palestinians. Anytime Israel wants to suspend whatever "peace" charade is in progress, it acts with more than its habitual savagery, elicits a terror bomb or two, and then says the Palestinians have not abandoned terror and can't be dealt with.

Are we seriously to believe that Ariel Sharon wants to surrender a square meter of land now inhabited by Jewish settlers? We're talking about a man whose entire life has been spent trying to drive Palestinians out of what he see was divinely ordained Greater Israel.

And are we likewise to believe Israel's lobbying groups here in the United States, primarily AIPAC, have suddenly had a change of heart and would now welcome a vigorous little Palestinian state? Of course they don't. If it can avoid it, AIPAC has no burning desire to go head to head with Bush on his road map, so it has turned down the volume on its rhetoric, while simultaneously urging its creatures in Congress to insist that the road map be set in the context of George Bush's June 24 speech of last year, now elevated to the dignity of a "statement of principles."

This same June 24 speech sounded at the time as though it were written by Sharon, and it probably was. It hedged Palestinian aspirations with so many restrictions and caveats that it ended up as a binding guarantee by the U.S. government (as if another one was needed) that at no time in the foreseeable future would the Palestinian national flag be permitted to fly over any real estate more substantial than a few football fields of rubble, denied water and surrounded by freeways restricted to Israeli settlers and the IDF.

An "aid package" to a putative Palestinian entity, put up by Lantos and a couple of other congressmen who should be getting their paychecks from Tel Aviv, is hedged with similar caveats and provisions. Mortimer Zuckerman, outgoing head of the Organization of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, has dispensed with the tactical soft soap of AIPAC and has flatly denounced the road map as an outrage to Israel, as have spokesmen for the Christian right. The more liberal Peace Now American-Jewish have urged support for the road map, but their clout is minimal.

The mystery is why, after all the years of abortive missions to the Middle East (do you recall the Zinni Plan and the Tenet Plan to name only two of the more frequent ones?), anyone pays serious attention to this nonsense, beyond cynical recognition that every couple of years the United States has to pretend an interest in a "just and lasting settlement" to throw a sop to world opinion or, since world opinion has mostly wised up to reality, to people like Tony Blair.

But the charade goes on. The Sunday talk shows and the editorial pages are freighted with earnest punditry about Sharon's historic shift. To find equivalent drivel one has to go back to the New York Times' respectful editorials of the mid-1930s about Hitler's constructive vision of the future of Europe.

Hold the following truths to be self-evident. Members of the U.S. Congress live in mortal terror of AIPAC and the larger pro-Israel lobby. These members know vividly the fate of those who defied the lobby and aroused its enmity, most recently Rep. Cynthia McKinney of Georgia. The lobby would like to see Palestinians removed to Jordan or some small space elsewhere in the world, such as the space between runways at Dallas-Fort Worth airport.

For its part Israel knows that at its present rate of onslaught, it's only a matter of a few short years before it will have seized every useful acre of the occupied territories. It's all over, and to pretend otherwise is to partake in a ritual long since purged of everything, save bad faith on the part of Israel and the United States .

Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at COPYRIGHT 2003 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.