Merely a few days ago President Bush had harshly criticized Israel’s plans to build a “security” fence, more aptly referred to by Palestinians as an apartheid wall, saying, “I think the wall is a problem … It is very difficult to develop confidence between the Palestinians and the Israelis … with a wall snaking through the West Bank.” Sharon was not going to stand for such outright US defiance of Israeli policies. With his delegation in hand, Mr. Sharon marched to the White House, his eighth visit mind you, to silence any opposition towards his policies.
Sharon stated on Tuesday that Israel would continue constructing the “security” fence across the West Bank in spite of US concerns that the project could damage peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. Fearing he had upset his friend too much with the remarks he had made earlier, Bush decided to temper his words and commented merely that “the fence is a sensitive issue.” Moreover, Sharon cemented his demand that Palestinian groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad must be dismantled if the peace talks are to move forward by gaining Bush’s absolute agreement.
According to Mr. Bush, the Palestinian Authority “must undertake sustained, targeted and effective operations to confront those engaged in terror and to dismantle terrorist capabilities and infrastructure. “This effectively calls on Palestinians to engage in internal violence and to potentially unleash a civil war if they want peace and US support. Apparently, the fact that a Hudna, which was achieved through peaceful dialogue and has held steady for the past month, reducing violence by 99%, has barely registered with the US administration.
Meanwhile, Sharon got a tap on the back for removing three checkpoints out of the 157 and for promising to release a few hundred Palestinian prisoners out of thousands, who will be replaced by a new batch of Palestinians detained by Israel. This affirms that the smallest gesture made by Israel is enough to delight the Americans, while the big steps Palestinians are taking are merely preliminary and have yet to show their serious commitment to peace.
In fact, the Israeli delegation prepared themselves for a fight with the Bush administration and expected to come under a lot of pressure to hand over more Palestinian cities, freeze settlement growth, halt construction of the wall and release thousands rather than hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, but instead were shocked at the warm reception and lack of pressure they received from Washington. Some of the Israelis who sat in on the meeting said afterwards it had been the best and most intimate meeting to date.
According to Yediot Aharonot, a daily Israeli newspaper, Bush kept referring to Sharon as ‘Ariel’, and underscored his point by touching the prime minister’s knee often.” Hemi Shalev wrote in Maariv newspaper, “they agreed on almost everything, and on the little about which they did not agree, they agreed to disagree.” While Abbas returned home from the US with the symbolic value of being welcomed by the US administration and with $20 million in direct aid, Sharon returned having gained Bush’s unequivocal support and “unshakable” commitment. One has to wonder how Bush intends to empower Abbas whilst continuously undercutting him with unwavering affection towards Sharon.