Prime Minister Ariel Sharon gambled big time on George Bush, and wasn't disappointed. Sharon maintained a public distance from the U.S. presidential campaign, focusing in recent months on domestic matters, but everyone knew which candidate had his vote. The alliance with Bush was the cornerstone of Sharon's strategy from the day he took office, and he stuck to it.
Sharon was concerned that if John Kerry won, the "peace team" would be resurrected and the area flooded with envoys and political initiatives from Washington. Bush's reelection secures the prime minister's political flank. The president will continue backing up Israel's military moves in the territories and supporting Sharon's disengagement plan. In the coming year, until the withdrawal is complete, Sharon need not worry. And even afterward, when the issue of further withdrawal from the West Bank is put to the test, Bush will be far more amenable than his defeated opponent.
It's difficult to think of more striking opposites than Bush and Sharon. They differ in age, background and experience. One is a devout believer, the other secular in the extreme. They share no special friendship, nor late-night phone calls. Their meetings come across like recitations of canned messages more than displays of personal chemistry. The dialogue between them takes place largely through their aides, Dov Weisglass and Condoleezza Rice. But even so, it works. They both have an aggressive worldview, and their leadership styles bear a certain resemblance. Bush and Sharon like working with a handful of loyalists and focus on a few important matters rather than responding to every problem that crops up.
Jerusalem knows that Bush values credibility, and that he will demand Sharon fulfill his promises to evacuate West Bank outposts and freeze settlement expansion. Sharon's people say the commitments will be kept. Attorney Talia Sasson, who is preparing a report on the government's handling of the outposts, came to the prime minister's bureau for a briefing yesterday. According to a political source, Sasson's document will be submitted by the end of December. Perhaps a legal way will then be found to evacuate the outposts efficiently and quickly. Another, denied version has the removal of outposts being delayed until after the pullout.
Washington anticipates an Israeli request for aid to fund the military aspects of the Gaza withdrawal. The U.S. will not pay for compensation to settlers who chose to live in the territories against its wishes. It will be generous in the military sphere, but not without first ascertaining that Gush Katif settlers are not relocating in droves to the West Bank and injecting the settlements there with renewed ideological strength.
Sharon's bureau rejoiced yesterday at Bush's victory, and now they await expected changes to the administration. From Israel's standpoint, the preferred appointments will be Rice as secretary of state, and her current deputy, Steve Hadley, as the national security adviser.
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