FERRY, W.Va. - In the midst of yesterday's stormy six-hour meeting
of Israel's cabinet, assembled to reluctantly affirm or angrily
reject Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's decision to accede to White
House pressure to sign on to a lopsided "road map," a beeper went
off in the pocket of an aide.
A message was
passed to Sharon: in anticipation that his trust-Bush argument would
prevail, the stock market in Tel Aviv had rocketed up nearly 7 percent
(equivalent to a 600-point rise in our Dow Jones industrial average).
general, who had been relying on his defense minister, Shaul Mofaz,
to assuage the cabinet's security concerns, promptly launched a
second front: "Hope is important," Sharon (in a Sunday midnight
telephone interview) recalls saying. "Cuts in the budget alone won't
help us. What we need is, first, quiet, and the start of the political
That may have
made the difference. Although 11 members voted no or abstained,
12 were willing to gamble on Sharon's trust in Bush. "It was not
an easy meeting," he says. "I decided not to postpone until we could
be sure of the vote, but to take the risk because Israel must not
be looked upon as an obstacle to the search for peace. What President
Bush said the other day affected me — that he was fully committed
for the security of the state of Israel. Maybe now there is a possibility
to move forward."
As the vote
showed, hard-liners are worried about "Arik": He had insisted on
"quiet" — an end to terror attacks — before negotiating, but then
changed that to "100 percent effort" by new Palestinian leaders.
Sharon had also insisted on evidence beforehand of a campaign to
disarm and pacify Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but he was willing to
hold private talks during a spate of suicide bombings. Sharon had
spurned negotiation as long as Palestinians asserted claims to return
en masse to Israel, but even as they kept putting forward that non-starter,
he met with the new prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas.
security with Abu Mazen a week ago. I offered him this: if they
can't gain control of all the areas, take responsibility for just
a section of the front, and we will not be acting in that area.
But he was bothered only by the road map.
"I'll see him
again during the next few days and we'll continue to talk on how
to act against terror. That's the important thing in the performance-based
plan. That's the condition for progress between and within the phases.
That Arafat controls most of the armed forces is a problem."
point to the road map itself, drawn up mainly by European and U.N.
Arabists and swallowed by our State Department.
we brought to the attention of the White House will be implemented
together with the road map," Sharon says in defense of his approval.
"The U.S. said these are real concerns that will be addressed `fully
and seriously.' We attached those 14 points to our government's
resolution, and that provided us with a certain feeling of security.
That, and the friendship and deep strategic cooperation that exists
between our two countries."
a side letter to an agreement, which the Palestinians and Europeans
brush off (though President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points was
the basis of a peace conference ending World War I). Sharon would
add a 15th objection: "the removal of references to U.N. resolutions
other than 242 and 338, and the Beirut conference. We cannot live
with Arab League resolutions."
sticky is the claim of refugees to land fled from a half-century
ago, which Arabs call a "right of return." Palestinians want to
kick hundreds of thousands of Jewish "settlers" out of a future
Palestine while inserting an even greater number of Muslims into
Israel. Jews find that a deal-breaker.
Bush may include
a summit meeting with Abbas and Sharon (not in Egypt) if the Palestinian
shows a willingness and ability to confront Arab terrorists. Media
and European pressure is on Bush to lean on Israel to trade security
for the appearance of peace.
"I am willing
to go far for a durable peace," said the Israeli leader last night,
"but I will make no compromise on security. We are a very small
country whose people are prepared to defend themselves by themselves.
My historical responsibility is to preserve that capability."