Upon the return of Prime Minister Sharon from his highly publicized visit to Washington, I , as an Israeli citizen, have a small request to make of President Bush: Please, tell us the truth. What he wanted from you and what you told him, what you wanted from him and what he said in response. Because from Sharon himself neither the country's citizens nor, it goes without saying, the permanently neutralized government, are going to learn the truth.
Sharon is a nonpareil master at turning the Hebrew saying "The mountain brought forth a mouse" - meaning all our expectations came to naught - into "The mouse brought forth a mountain." The impression he created before he left was that he was not going to Washington for an ordinary working visit but as a senior ally, a comrade in arms, in your war against the "forces of darkness" and the "axis of evil." And just to make sure that we made no mistake about the historical-political-military importance of the visit, not a day went by in the week before the trip without terrifying headlines about the Iranian-Iraqi menace and about how fiercely we would react if attacked. As though the daily anxiety about the terrorist attacks that originate in the territories weren't enough, Sharon covered up his failure to provide us with "personal security" by means of global threats for which he was deploying.
If we understood aright the purpose of Sharon's visit, he not only wanted to be your partner and adviser in the war you are waging against terrorism; maybe - who knows - he also wanted to advise you how to go about capturing bin Laden, whom you have not yet managed to get your hands on, though it's perfectly clear that something like that would never happen to Sharon of the 101st Unit from the good old days.
On the occasion of this meeting of "comrades in arms," he certainly intended to get your go-ahead to finish off "our bin Laden" and to install a new Palestinian leadership. Sharon, perhaps rightly, reached the conclusion that since 9/11 the administration has no head for getting involved in a solution to the conflict now, and no further illusions about Yasser Arafat's ability to eradicate terrorism. Possibly he expected that on this occasion, in which you are getting ready to strike at Saddam, he could terminate Arafat.
The results of the visit left us a mite confused. The meeting in the White House lasted only 45 minutes. In the whole history of our relations, that is the shortest meeting ever held between an American president and an Israeli prime minister. Usually such meetings go on for longer than the time scheduled for them. But with Sharon length doesn't matter. Twenty years ago, Sharon, who was then defense minister, held a short conversation with the secretary of state, General Haig, from which Sharon "understood" that Haig gave him a green light to invade Lebanon. In December 1982, he "understood" from Amin Gemayel that he had the draft of a peace treaty with Lebanon and he went so far as to declare solemnly that as a result, "Lebanon will be the second country to make peace with Israel." The Begin government, to its embarrassment, approved the draft agreement, which burst as quickly as a soap bubble, and we remained stuck in Lebanon for the next 18 years. Sharon's problem was, and remains to be, that he takes in what he wants to hear.
So, now that Sharon is back, it is important for us to know what you told him. According to one report, Sharon returned as "the winner on points." His circles spoke about how he toughened his stance in the meeting with the president, which dealt mainly with the need for an alternative leadership to Arafat. However, the reports from Washington actually indicated that there is strong opposition to harming Arafat, as this is liable to escalate the situation in a way that will adversely affect America's efforts against Iraq. The question is how sharp and unequivocal the administration's opposition was to any attempt by Sharon to cross this Rubicon. The disclosure by Defense Minister Ben-Eliezer, in a meeting with Israeli reporters, that Vice President Cheney said that "as far as I am concerned, you can hang Arafat," and that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told him that talking to Arafat is "a waste of time," and his remark that "the administration is more extreme than [assassinated tourism minister Rehavam] Ze'evi" raised questions about the position the administration actually presented and what Sharon understood.
True, it is not customary to reveal secrets from diplomatic talks, but this time it is important that Bush make clear publicly the truth about the administration's posture and about what was said to Sharon. Was he presented with a red line, and where does it stop? Ambivalent language and ambivalent positions on the part of the administration are a breeding ground for dangerous ideas that are liable to leave us all in tears.
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