A week before Ariel Sharon lands at President Bush's ranch in Texas, the public has learned a thing or two about the importance of the ranch in our political life. From the historic visit of Levi Eshkol at the ranch of President Lyndon B. Johnson to the semi-historic visit of Benjamin Netanyahu at Sharon's ranch last Friday, fates have been sealed and agreements have been signed to the sound of cows mooing and sheep bleating. The informal atmosphere has a way of softening people up. Johnson and Eshkol wore cowboy hats. Sharon has a wide-brimmed Australian outback hat he may take along, but he won't top Bush, with those cowboy boots of his.
Bibi's visit to Sycamore Ranch and his chat with Arik in the hypnotic tranquillity of the ranch may not have put an end to the lack of love between them, but there are signs that something positive happened. Want to know what? So do I. So I called up a close friend of Bibi's and asked him if he could enlighten me about what went on there. The gracious person on the other end of the line promised to get back to me in five minutes. It's been a week, and I'm still waiting.
Sharon is a charmer, and my guess is that he promised Bibi full backing for the completion of his economic plan so he could start reaping the rewards. In return, Bibi will adopt a lower profile on disengagement and tone down his connection to the rebels. The importance of such meetings, they say, lies in the very fact that they take place. The pastoral setting does the rest.
As we eagerly await Sharon's visit to the Bush ranch, Yedioth Ahronoth has come out with a four-page spread, complete with a picture splashed across half the front page, starring the "Lady of Sycamore Ranch" - Gilad Sharon's pretty wife - hand-feeding two of the prime minister's horses. The caption reads: "She buys the PM his shirts and ties. Her children doze off in his bed and Lily would approve of her cooking." The interviewer, Anat Lev-Adler, is not related to Sharon's adman Reuven Adler. But you don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out that the write-up was the brainchild of Sharon's spin doctors, and got Sharon's okay.
The interviewee is Inbal Sharon, but the star is clearly Sharon. He's a very loving grandfather, and the kids adore him. They jump on him and hug him. He's crazy about them. Even when they're wild and disturb him when he's trying to rest, he never complains. They like to watch soccer games on TV together. When there's no game on, Arik watches old classic films and Westerns, and the kids fall asleep in his bed.
Inbal says she cooks Sharon's favorite dishes, and he likes to sit there while she's puttering around in the kitchen. On his way to the ranch, he gives her a call to say he's coming, and she makes sure there's a hot meal on the table.
It's hard to say whether this is the kind of idyll that awaits Grandpa Arik when he sets foot on Bush's ranch. When Eshkol visited LBJ at his ranch in 1968, he found a friendly president who did a lot of back and knee slapping, and even yanked up his shirt to show Eshkol the surgical scar on his stomach.
In contrast to the Ben-Gurion-Kennedy meeting, LBJ didn't say a word about nukes. But he did ask Eshkol the historic question about what kind of Israel he envisaged. America was in the midst of the Vietnam War. Maybe that had an impact. The visit ended with a dramatic shift in U.S. defense policy toward Israel. The embargo on attack weapons was lifted, and the president agreed for the first time to supply Israel with Skyhawk and Phantom bombers.
Bush admires Sharon, and he is not inviting him down to the ranch to skewer him in public just before the disengagement. But that doesn't mean he won't tell Sharon what he expects him to do and not do after the pullout. Johnson, at the time, explained to Eshkol how Texan ranchers overpower a wayward bull: You grab him by the balls and hold them tight - until eventually, head and heart come around.
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