Source, quoting Bush: 'We have a problem with Sharon'
An irked Bush reportedly rebuked Defense Minister Mofaz, telling him 'You can help (the PA), and you will.'
Behind-the-scenes exchanges between President George Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at last week's Aqaba summit may hint at a certain shift in the American stance, from the Israeli to the Palestinian side, according to a participant in the three-way meeting of the delegations.
The source quoted Bush as telling his National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that "I see that we have a problem with Sharon," while saying of the Palestinians led by Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, "We can work with them."
At one point, an irked Bush reportedly rebuked Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, telling him "Oh, but I think that you can [help the Palestinians]. And I think that you will."
At the advance request of Israel at the summit, Bush's aides had put security problems at the top of the agenda for discussion. "The first thing that Bush was required to talk about was security," the participant said, adding, "It was a request of the Israelis. So [Bush] asked Dahlan to give a briefing."
According to the source, Dahlan gave an excellent five-minute synopsis of the situation, and concluded by saying to Bush: "There are some things we can do and some things we cannot. We will do our best. But we will need help."
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz burst in at the end of Dahlan's presentation and said: "Well, they won't be getting any help from us; they have their own security service."
You could see that Bush was irritated, the participant said, and Bush turned on Mofaz angrily: "Their own security service? But you have destroyed their security service."
Mofaz shook his head and said: "I do not think that we can help them, Mr. President," - to which Bush said: "Oh, but I think that you can. And I think that you will."
Then Bush turned to Abbas - again according to a script insisted on by the Israelis - and said: "Mr. Prime Minister, perhaps you could give an overview of the situation in the West Bank and Gaza."
Abbas outlined the increasingly dire situation of the territories, saying that the humanitarian crisis was deepening, and that while recent actions of the finance minister had eased the problems, the insertion of new funding was necessary.
Sharon then interrupted and said: "The insertion of new funding must be dependent on your good behavior." Bush was again visibly irritated: "You should release their money as soon as possible. This will help the situation."
Sharon shook his head: "We have to deal with security first, and we will condition the release of their monies on this alone." Bush peered at Sharon: "But it is their money ..." Sharon said: "Nevertheless, Mr. President ..." and Bush interrupted him: "It is their money, give it to them."
After that meeting, Bush turned to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and said, "We have a problem with Sharon I can see, but I like that young man [Dahlan] and I think their prime minister is incapable of lying. I hope that they will be successful. We can work with them."
Bush was also pleased with the determination with which Abbas rebuffed pressure from his ministers, Nabil Sha'ath and Yasser Abed Rabbo, to toughen the language of the Abbas speech, which he had agreed upon with the American delegation before the summit. They said it would cause trouble in the Palestinian Authority. They argued heatedly with Abbas about his comments, at one point in front of the president. But Abbas insisted that his remarks follow the outlines set out by Bush.
Bush watched the interplay and was pleased that Abbas agreed to the American president's suggestions on the draft remarks: "If you will just do this, I pledge to you we will get where your colleagues want you to go. But we are going to take one step at a time."