Jewish World Review April 22, 2003 /20 Nissan, 5763
Sealed With a Kiss
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | When Secretary of State Powell arrives in Israel sometime in the next few weeks, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will greet him with open arms. Powell is the emissary of President Bush, after all, and Sharon loves the American President.
Love is not an entirely new emotion for Sharon - he is famous for his devotion to his late wife, Lilly, and his sons - but in the public arena Sharon has always been more of a fighter than a lover. Now, at age 75, he has developed a full-blown crush on the President of the United States.
Like all great romances, this one is requited. Sharon, who was persona non grata in Washington for almost 20 years, has a not-at-all-secret admirer in the White House. It is also mutually beneficial. Bush wants - and will get - Sharon's support in 2004. In return, Sharon is asking Bush himself - not the UN, the European Union or even the State Department - to set the tone for Middle East peacemaking.
That will be a problem for Powell, who sees his mission as selling Sharon on an internationally sponsored road map to peace. The Israeli prime minister is on record as accepting the destination - a Palestinian state next door to Israel - but not necessarily the route or the final shape of the new entity.
Still, Sharon has no intention of quarreling over this - or anything else - with Bush. Which isn't at all the same as saying the prime minister has turned into the Okey-Dokey Kid.
At least four issues already are shaping up as contentious, starting with the question of Palestinian leadership.
If things go according to schedule, a new Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, will introduce a new Palestinian cabinet this week. Abbas, a Palestine Liberation Organization hack also known as Abu Mazen, owes his job to Sharon, who refuses to deal with Yasser Arafat and has persuaded Bush to go along.
The Europeans and the UN - and doubtless the State Department - will be more than satisfied with the new name on the official Palestinian stationery. But Sharon is after more than a nominal change. He wants to keep Arafat out of the decision-making process. But this, despite the new government, is far from a done deal. Arafat doesn't want to relinquish real power, and Mazen already has been forced to put Arafat cronies in important cabinet positions.
Mazen's legitimacy depends on Sharon. If the Israeli prime minister decides that he's an Arafat stooge, he won't get very far. If Sharon pronounces Mazen kosher, the rest of the Israeli establishment will say amen.
The same is true of two other sticking points - terrorism and settlements - that were discussed last week in Washington in a meeting between senior American officials and Sharon advisers. Sharon doesn't want to give up security control over Palestinian territory until he believes the Palestinian Authority will disarm and break up terrorist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. He also has a problem with the demand that Israel stop building settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.
Neither of these concerns is a deal breaker. Sharon is correctly regarded by the Israeli public as the ultimate security hawk. Any Palestinian disarmament deal he approves will be generally accepted.
Same for the issue of territorial compromise. Sharon has been the papa of West Bank and Gaza settlements since the mid-'70s. If he says it's all right to stop building, he has the prestige and political clout to get his way. And if he agrees to a map along the lines proposed by his predecessor, Ehud Barak, at Camp David in September 2000 - which called for dismantling some settlements - there won't be many Israelis holier than Pope Ariel.
The one issue Sharon can't finesse - and won't - is the Palestinian so-called right of return. Agreeing that millions of Arab refugees and their descendants will be given the option to resettle in pre-1967 Israel would mean the demographic death of the Jewish State. This is something the Israel public - even the left wing - can't possibly accept. As long as the right of return isn't explicitly renounced by the Palestinians, the road map will lead nowhere.
Sharon both likes and respects Powell, but he doesn't love him - and he doesn't fear him. Last April, in the midst of Israel's Operation Defensive Shield, the secretary of state went to the region and demanded that Israel withdraw its forces from Palestinian cities. Sharon went over Powell's head to Bush. The troops are still there.
If Powell comes to the Middle East with a road map that matches Sharon's needs, he will be embraced. If on the other hand, he tries to peddle a Eurocentric version of the plan, he once again will go home disappointed - but not empty-handed. Sharon will give him a message to take with him. It will say:
Dearest, Remember what we mean to each other. You know I'll do
whatever I can to make you happy. Just give me a little more time.
Trust me as I trust you. And please, please, don't let Colin and his
diplomatic busybodies come between us with that damn road map.
Sharon's letter will be addressed to the President of the United States. It
will be sealed with a kiss. And it will be the end of what could be a
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04/14/03: Don't believe the cheers