Will Bush pay a heavy price for Gaza deal with Sharon?
RON KAM P EAS
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
ike his "Mission Accomplished" landing
aboard an aircraft carrier just after the suc-
cessful U.S. invasion of Iraq, President
George W. Bush's triumphal appearance
with Ariel Sharon two weeks ago eventually could
haunt his electoral prospects.
The historic deal between the president and the
Israeli prime minister traded Israel's withdrawal from
Gaza and a small part of the West Bank for U.S. recog-
nition of some Israeli claims to the West Bank and a
rejection of any Palestinian refugee return to
It also cut the Palestinians out of the nego-
tiating process for now — and that could
leave the United States responsible for Gala, a crowd-
ed, parched patch of land that successive British,
Egyptian and Israeli rulers never truly mastered.
"One wonders whether Bush really appreciates what
he is getting himself and the United States into,"
Martin Indyk, the Clinton administration's top Middle
East official, wrote Sunday in an opinion piece in the
Washington Post that concluded, "Welcome to Gaza,
In the meantime, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the pre-
sumptive Democratic candidate, is able to exploit the
non-incumbent's advantage: He can endorse the deal
now and blame any subsequent failure on the incum-
bent president. Kerry clearly understood the advantage
when he praised Bush for the deal but — not even
pausing to breathe — suggested that it was doomed to
"What the president did in recognizing the issue of
the 'right of return and recognizing the issue of some
of the settlements, really recognized the reality on the
ground," Kerry told a gathering of news editors last
week. "What I fault the administration for is that they
haven't done enough to create the climate within the
Arab world to advance an entity within the West Bank,
within the Palestinian Authority, that is capable of
delivering a peace."
his term. The Palestinian Authority's failure to
track down terrorists in two cases — after a
Jerusalem bus bombing last Aug. 19 and after an
attack on a U.S. diplomatic convoy in the Gaza
Strip in October — helped persuade Bush to
accept Sharon's principal condition for pulling
out of Gaza: Shut the Palestinians out of the
process, for now.
In addition to Bush's conviction that some-
thing needed to be done, there also were clear
electoral considerations to his agreement with
Sharon snubbed Kerry while he was in the
United States and said Bush was more commit-
ted to fighting terrorism than any
other president had been.
Additionally, Bush aides persuaded
Israel not to take substantial steps
President George W Bush
toward a withdrawal until after the U.S. election.
Some commentators have noted that the U.S. commit-
The thinking was that a delay would exploit the full
electoral advantage of the deal: By November, Bush still ments were vague enough to leave the Palestinians
ample wiggle room in future negotiations.
could say he had unstuck a notoriously mired peace
Equivocations could intensify after a Likud party ref-
process, but wouldn't yet have to deal with its repercus-
erendum on the deal on Sunday. 'After May 2, it may
emerge that Bush's letter and commitments to Sharon
That could help — especially in the fight for Jewish
really tactical and designed to help Sharon," said
votes in swing states.
Joseph Alpher, a U.S.-Israel expert who runs bitter-
lemons.org , a Palestinian-Israeli opinion exchange. "It's
possible that we will see backtracking, we've already
seen damage control."
David Harris, executive director of the American
It also isn't certain that the Likud would pass the
Jewish Committee, said that for all its risks, the agree-
ment has positives that could help Bush, especially with deal. "If Sharon loses the referendum, the whole disen-
gagement is jeopardized," Harris said.
American Jewish voters. "He reinforces in a major way
Whatever the plan's successes, it's too early to say
the special bond between Israel and the U.S. and, sec-
whether it will swing a significant sector of the Jewish
ond, he tries to demonstrate movement on the
vote, pollster John Zogby said. Zogby noted the strong
ground," Harris said.
Jewish turnout at a pro-choice march last weekend that
Still, there are signs that the buy-now, pay-later
turned into an anti-Bush event. "When push comes to
approach might have been premature: Already, there
shove, liberalism is going to trump with Jewish voters,"
have been repercussions. In Iraq, the top U.N. envoy
said Zogby, whose polling consistently shows about 70
to the region, Lakhdar Brahimi — a man Bush is
percent to 75 percent of Jews leaning Democratic.
depending on for a smooth transition — said the
And, he noted, "Israel isn't a factor because Kerry
agreement, and Israel's policies, were "poisoning" his
simply 'me too'd''' the Bush-Sharon deal.
Kerry repeated his promise of maximum commit-
A perception that the agreement with Sharon wors-
ment to Israel in and Israel Independence Day message
ened an already deteriorating situation in Iraq could
April 27. "The people of Israel should know that our
offset whatever electoral gains Bush wins among Jewish
pledge to a safe and secure Jewish state is unwavering,"
he said. "From this enduring friendship will always
The two closest U.S. allies in the region, Jordan and
Egypt, are furious. King Abdullah II of Jordan abruptly come the promise of never-ending support."
In fact, while Kerry and Bush might once have had
cut short a U.S. visit a day before he was to meet Bush,
fundamentally different approaches to Israeli-
and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak — who had
Palestinian negotiations — with Kerry advocating mul-
just met with Bush at the presidential ranch in Texas
tilateral involvement and Bush championing a U.S.-led
before the announcement — told Arab Americans he
— either man's approach on Nov. 3 will be
felt insulted by the deal.
by one overwhelming factor: Iraq.
But both countries are quietly negotiating favorable
Just like Bush, "If Kerry wins, he's going to inherit a
U.S. concessions for supporting the deal, and Abdullah
huge commitment in Iraq and a major occupation,"
will probably be back in May.
Alpher said. ❑
U.S. officials, led by Secretary of State Colin Powell,
now claim that U.S. recognition of Israel's demands
For the latest news, see www.detroitjewishnews.com
does not necessarily prejudge a negotiated outcome.
Bush Administration spokesmen say the United States
would assist the Palestinians in getting ready for self-
rule, a commitment that would further stretch a diplo-
matic corps already working overtime in Iraq.
It isn't yet clear why the administration believes that
the Palestinian Authority — an entity whose corrup-
tion and haplessness drove Bush to accept the Israeli
prime minister's plan — will be any more capable of
handlina self-rule nine months from now, when Israel
says it plans
Bush's acceptance of Sharon's conditions for the
withdrawal was rooted in the president's profound dis-
appointment with the Palestinians' performance during