Talk about 'Palestinian State' is little but an excuse for bringing Sharon still further into the war council. Expect Sharon to make his 8th visit to the White House soon before the guns explode in the Middle East region.
Sharon aims to advance agreements on June speech plan
By Aluf Benn
Haaretz - 31 Feb:
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon hopes to visit U.S. President George W. Bush in the next two weeks, and officials in his office - who have been feeling out the White House about a meeting - are now awaiting Washington's response. The subject came up in a 15-minute phone call between the two leaders on Wednesday.
Sharon wants to highlight his understandings with Bush with respect to the political plan presented by the president in his June 24 speech. A meeting would demonstrate Sharon's intention to quickly advance the political process, in the wake of his election victory. That would increase pressure on Labor to join a unity government, and foil plans for an imposed international peace through the "road map" plan prepared by the Quartet which includes the U.S., the European Union, the UN and Russia.
A government source in Jerusalem said there is no problem with Sharon visiting Washington during coalition negotiations, before a new government has been formed. "It would be worthwhile for Sharon to spend a week with Bush, while the coalition negotiations are under way without him here."
Another source said Sharon will try to persuade the Americans that there's no need to wait until the day after the war in Iraq, and that the political process with the Palestinians can move ahead simultaneously with the war.
But from the American point of view, a Sharon visit might be problematic. The Bush administration is busy at present with garnering and finalizing international support for the war. Many foreign leaders will be visiting Washington to discuss the war issue in the coming days and weeks.
The U.S. has no interest in spotlighting its relations with Israel, which has been asked to keep a low profile and stay out of the Iraqi crisis. Sharon must be present in the country during a war with Iraq, which is why he prefers to visit Washington before it breaks out.
The prime minister meanwhile received an invitation to meet with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who sent a congratulatory message to him on his election victory, as did the leaders of Russia, Turkey, Japan, Italy, Belgium and South Korea.
Diplomatic sources said yesterday that European capitals are rethinking their relationship with Sharon after his reelection, and that there is increasing understanding of the need "to face reality" and engage him in political dialogue.
France, which in the past led criticism of Israel in the EU, did not intervene in the elections, keeping Amram Mitzna, Sharon's opponent, at arm's length unlike Blair. French President Jacques Chirac sent a congratulatory message to Sharon.
Government sources in Jerusalem said the statement by eight European countries, supporting American policy in Iraq is a watershed, and will have an impact on the future of the Israeli-Arab conflict. The sources said that "it is possible that we'll also see Europe split with regard to us, as in the case of Iraq."
Europe is beginning to realize that the "road map" won't be implemented. The U.S. has acceded to Sharon's request to hear Israel's "remarks" on the plan, and to postpone its finalization until the new Israeli government is formed. The "road map," parts of which have been severely criticized by Israel, calls for a Palestinian state in provisional borders by the end of 2003, and a final status agreement by 2005.
Sharon has said he accepts the principles of the Bush speech, and will bring the plan described in it before the new government. According to his interpretation, the first stage relates to demands to be made of the Palestinians: a total cease-fire, comprehensive reforms, and removing Yasser Arafat from power. Only then will Israel make concessions and agree to a Palestinian state in provisional borders.
According to diplomatic sources, the Europeans will stick to their rhetorical commitment to the "road map," but will consider other scenarios, including:
* Direct negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian officials, similar to former foreign minister Shimon Peres' dialogue with Abu Ala, meaning there is no need for an imposed solution.
* A regional peace conference after the war in Iraq, along the lines of the 1991 Madrid conference, as proposed by Sharon in the past. It would be followed by direct negotiations with the Palestinians.
* A "soft departure" for Arafat, who would assume a ceremonial position. This is Sharon's main demand. Some Quartet members have proposed that Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayyad be named Palestinian prime minister.
* A security arrangement led by Egypt, according to the still-incomplete cease-fire plan under discussion among the Palestinian factions in Cairo. Israel will continue with supportive actions, to enable implementation. Sharon is going to meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak after the new government is formed to discuss the political proces in the region.