Benjamin Netanyahu's disciples ought to take off their hats to Ariel Sharon. To get a meeting with Bill Clinton, Bibi was ready to burrow under the White House lawn. Not since Yitzhak Shamir has an Israeli prime minister forgone a chance to shake hands with the leader of the world's biggest superpower.
In the Prime Minister's Office yesterday, they said that the meeting with President Bush will take place soon, when appropriate for Sharon's schedule. In other words, we have an Israeli patriot, for whom nothing, including the president of the United States, gets in the way of the supreme interest of his country. And what, according to Sharon, is that supreme interest? To protect Israel from its Arab enemy. How? With determination, wiliness, unity, and most importantly, patience. A lot of patience. As far as he's concerned, every day that goes by without an Israeli concession to the Palestinians, without a surrender to the Americans or kowtowing to the Europeans only strengthens Israel's spirit and weakens its enemies.
Postponing his visit to America was not meant to insult the president. He has nothing personal against Bush. He also didn't have anything personal against Bush's dad, when Sharon tried to shackle Shamir on the way to the Madrid conference. Sharon thinks that the Bushes are just trying to look after their country's interests, just like he is doing what he thinks is best for his country.
The Americans may believe that if Israel gives up territories, the Palestinians will establish an independent peace-loving state. Sharon believes that if Israel gives up most of the territories, the Palestinians will establish an enemy state. That's been his view since time immemorial and there's no evidence that he's changed his mind. All the talk about "painful concessions" and news about a "negotiating team" still remains to be proved.
Shamir says that when he sent Elyakim Rubinstein in 1991 to negotiate with the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, he meant to drag the talks out over a decade. He never believed that the Madrid process would end with an agreement between Israel and the PLO. Nobody heard Sharon say he misses "the surrender agreement," also known as the Oslo Accords, the way he misses Rabin. The Palestinian violence, Yasser Arafat's confusing behavior, and the patronage of the Nobel Peace Laureate all help Sharon turn the clock back 10 years. In the best case - in which Arafat enforces a quiet in the territories that out-quiets even the best days of Rabin's negotiations - Sharon will agree, maybe, to start the count on Shamir's 10 years.
Sharon also learned Shamir's bitter lesson, and keeps quiet at home about his arguments with the Americans. Unlike Netanyahu, who loved playing Washington games of Congress versus the administration and Jews versus the press, Sharon prefers to sit quietly upstairs in the mezzanine. So far, his patience has paid off. The terror attacks on America turned the president's agenda upside down. His designated envoy to the Middle East, General Anthony Zinni, was sent to Pakistan to enlist it in the cause against the Taliban; the pictures of Afghanistan's dead and refugees dwarf the pictures of the dead and wounded in the territories. Unleashing an American assassination policy on Muslim terrorists softened the U.S. criticism of Israeli assassinations of Palestinian terrorists.
As far as Sharon is concerned, one trip more or less to the U.S., like his "Czechoslovakia speech" and the apology that followed it, are just foam on the Atlantic Ocean's surface. The Americans have begun to understand that for Sharon, the special relationship with the U.S. is marginal. The famous speech has been stuck in U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's throat for two months, the meeting between Bush and Arafat has yet to be set and Avigdor Lieberman is singing the praises of Peres' public relations campaign. So what if there are still cars on the road with stickers that say "Sharon's a leader for peace." Shamir has already ruled that for the Land of Israel, it's okay to lie.
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