The Sharon-Bush talks will set the stage for future progress
between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Jewish Telegmphic Agency
Some argue that Sharon is using a familiar technique
before his White House visit — striking a tough pose
for his domestic audience, only to magnanimously
"concede" certain issues when he meets with Bush.
Though Powell managed to set up a meeting
between Sharon and the new Palestinian Authority
prime minister, Mal-imoud Abbas, he made little head-
way on substance. In the wake of the Powell visit, Israel
did make a number of goodwill gestures — releasing
180 Palestinian prisoners, allowing more Palestinian
laborers and businessmen to work in Israel and easing
some restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West
Bank and Gaza Strip.
ith a new strategic balance in the
Middle East and pressure building to
implement a U.S.-backed peace plan,
next week's meeting between Ariel
Sharon and George Bush could be their most impor-
tant to date.
Neither Israelis nor Palestinians came away entirely
pleased after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's visit
to the region last weekend. The visit made clear that
the United States is determined to keep pressing
for Israeli-Palestinian peace, and that President
Bush himself intends to be personally involved.
But Palestinians had expected Powell to produce
more sweeping Israeli concessions, while Israel was
left wondering if the United States will indeed
force the Palestinians to undertake a serious crack-
down on terror.
Analysts believe the moment of truth will come
May 20, when the Israeli prime minister meets
Bush at the White House. U.S. officials say Bush is
set to take up the sensitive issue of Israeli settle-
ments in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and, in
general, may seek greater Israeli flexibility on the
``road map" to peace.
In dealing with Iraq, Syria and Islamic terrorism,
the United States is taking care of the main strate-
gic threats to Israel, these officials argue — and it's
now time for Israel to be more forthcoming on
Secretary of State Cohn Powell, right, greets Palestinian
peacemaking with the Palestinians.
Minister Mohammed Dahlan in Jerico May 11.
The question is whether Bush will take that
position, influenced by neoconservatives who argue
Shortly after, however, a full closure was reimposed
that Israel must fall in line with America's grand vision
on the territories because of warnings that terrorists
of a new, more stable Middle East — or whether he
planned to carry out attacks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
will be swayed by the Republican right wing, which
Sharon made clear to Powell that there would no
supports Israel and its settlement activity and which
Israeli troop withdrawal until there were real signs that
Israeli settlers are trying to mobilize on their behalf.
Indeed, the way the president leans in the meeting with the Palestinians were cracking down on terror.
Sharon also explained to Powell why Israel insists
Sharon could decide the road map's fate.
that the Palestinians disarm and dismantle terror
Sharon has yet to accept the U.S.-backed road map,
saying only that Israel backs the diplomatic vision Bush groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aksa
Brigades. If Abbas merely negotiates a cease-fire with
laid out in a policy speech last June 24. The road map
these groups, Sharon says, they will use the lull to
was to be the mechanism to implement the June 24
regroup — and launch new terror against Israel in the -
vision, but Israel contends that the plan differs from
the Bush speech in important respects.
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom explained Israel's
insistence that the Palestinians waive the "right of
return." The road map asks Israel to commit to a
Palestinian state without the issue of the right of return
Sharon has placed two tough demands in the way of
being resolved, he argued. This had not been the case
the plan: that the-Palestinians not only stop the vio-
in the Oslo peace process, where the Palestinians were
lence but disarm and dismantle the terrorist organiza-
to be rewarded with statehood only after the refugee
tions, as they have pledged repeatedly to do; and that
issue was resolved, Shalom said.
from the start they waive their demand that millions of
If they get their state first, Shalom asked, what incen-
Palestinian refugees and their descendants from Israel's
tive would the Palestinians have to waive their demand
1948 War of Independence be allowed to return to
— whose implementation would mean the demo-
their former homes inside Israel.
graphic destruction of the Jewish state?
In his public statements, at least, Powell seemed to
back the Israeli position on terror. The United States
must "see rapid, decisive action by the Palestinians to
disarm and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure,"
Powell declared at a news conference in Jerusalem.
"Without such action, our best efforts will fail."
Privately, though, he expressed doubts that Abbas
could forcibly dismantle the terrorist groups.
Israeli officials fear that if Abbas negotiates a cease-
fire with the groups that holds for any length of time,
the Americans will demand a major Israeli troop with-
drawal in response.
Powell did not addressthe right of return issue
directly. However, given his frequent statement that
there's enough agreement between the parties to make
a start on the peace plan — without letting more con-
tentious issues bog them down now — his perspective
Powell made a concerted effort to please his Israeli
hosts and the Israeli public. His demand for Palestinian
action against terror was not counterbalanced by overt
pressure on Israel to freeze settlement activity in the
West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The American seriousness on the road map can be
gauged by the fact that Powell left behind David
Satterfield, one of his top aides on Mideast issues, to set
up a mechanism for monitoring the plan's implementa-
tion. Satterfield made it clear that the Americans —
not the European Union, United Nations or Russia,
the other parties that helped draft the road map —
would take the lead in monitoring compliance on secu-
rity and settlements.
In addition, two senior Bush administration officials
— Stephen Hadley, deputy national security adviser,
and Elliott Abrams, the National Security Council's
Middle East director — met extensively with Sharon
while in Israel last week. The envoys emphasized the
intensity of the White House focus on the Israeli-
Palestinian conflict, but also heard a great deal about
Some say careful attention to language will be key to
deciphering the outcome of next week's crucial meeting
in the White House. In recent days, including during
Powell's trip, talk shifted from immediate implementa-
tion of the road map to calls for small steps that would
build confidence on the ground.
While Bush may indeed pressure Sharon to do more,
analysts say he is not likely so seek Sharon's direct
endorsement of the plan, instead encouraging more
practical steps on the ground. That would give the
United States the progress it seeks and create an envi-
ronment in which the new Palestinian Authority prime
minister potentially could thrive.
Sharon, for his part, would get credit for taking steps
that please the United States, without expending politi-
cal capital by directly supporting the road map.
Still, such formulas can't work forever. Eventually
Sharon will have to vote yes or no on the plan, said
David Makovsky, senior fellow at the Washington
Institute for Near East Policy. The administration will
understand anything that deals with security realities,"
he said. "But actions that are not seen as security-relat-
ed but as ideological or political will not be seen in the
same friendly light."