The Phones Are Dead

CHRISTOPHER FURLONG/GETTY IMAGES

STANDING TALL A portrait of Abbas looms over a street in the West Bank city Nablus

In 1998, as Ariel Sharon prepared for his first-ever meeting with a member of Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization, the old general didn't hide his distaste at the prospect of sitting down with Palestinian leaders. "All of them are from Sodom," Sharon told a friend. "But we'll have to deal with someone after Arafat." Sharon decided to place his bets on the secretary-general of the P.L.O.'s executive committee, a taciturn moderate named Mahmoud Abbas. Sharon invited Abbas to Sycamores Farm, his 600-hectare ranch in the Negev Desert. If Abbas were ever to replace Arafat, Sharon later concluded, he was a man...

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