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On First Visit in Nearly Six Months, Sharon May Find Changed Tone in U.S.

November 30, 2001
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The world has changed since Ariel Sharon last visited the White House.

When the Israeli prime minister meets President Bush and other administration officials Monday, his first visit since the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington, he will be seeking a better understanding of the changing U.S.-Israeli relationship.

In addition, the visit may test the limits of Sharon’s restraint, coming as it does just after two major Palestinian terror attacks in Israel this week — a bus bombing on Thursday and the machine-gunning of civilians on Tuesday. Sharon learned of Thursday’s attack as he arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport for his flight to the United States, and delayed his departure.

Sharon last visited the United States in June, and his visit comes amid two major international efforts that affect Israel — the U.S.-led war on terror and an enhanced U.S. push for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Analysts say the visit will be a chance for the Bush administration to reinforce the U.S.-Israel bond — and pressure Israel to do its part.

Sharon will need to reinforce the Israeli commitment to a cease-fire, and he is expected to pledge his commitment to the Mitchell plan, a timeline for resuming peace talks outlined by a commission led by former Sen. George Mitchell last spring.

Israeli officials said Sharon will insist that he will make no concessions on political issues until after Palestinian violence stops and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat follows through on his commitments to halt attacks against Israel.

“I expect a good deal of discussion between the president and the prime minister on the fulfillment of that position, and the steps that can be taken by Israel once the Palestinians fulfil those commitments,” said Jason Isaacson, director of government and international affairs for the American Jewish Committee. “My guess is that there is, at both the private level and public level, a considerable reservoir of understanding for Israel’s situation.”

Sharon is expected to stick to his call for seven days of quiet before the steps outlined in the Mitchell plan begin. The Bush administration originally expressed its understanding for Sharon’s condition, but both the United States and Israel’s own Labor Party now are pressuring Sharon to be more flexible.

Sharon supporters insist that if Arafat can’t ensure even a week without attacks, he can’t be trusted to deliver a lasting peace that entails heavy Israeli concessions.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, several incidents have suggested a weakening of the U.S.-Israel link. Sharon publicly warned the United States against selling out Israel as the West sold out Czechoslovakia to the Nazis in 1938, concerned that the United States would sacrifice Israeli interests in courting the Arab world for its anti-terror coalition. Bush was outraged by the analogy.

In addition, despite its own strong statements about the need to fight terrorism, the Bush administration has not given Israel the green light it expected against Palestinian terrorism, continuing to criticize Israeli incursions into the West Bank and Israel’s policy of killing leading Palestinian militants.

But Sharon’s meetings with Bush and other senior administration officials might be the antidote to weakening relations.

“It will send a reassuring signal,” Isaacson said. “It will be read by Israel’s enemies as a sign that Israel’s alliance with the U.S. is unshaken.”

Sharon will be seeking an understanding of Israel’s role in the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism, and whether the coalition eventually will target Iraq and Iran, both of which Israel regards as serious strategic threats.

Israel has been pleased with recent moves to lump Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad together with Al Qaida and other organizations that the United States classifies as terrorists.

Sharon also may raise concerns to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about new weapons being sold to Egypt that would increase Egypt’s capacity to attack Israel. The United States is planning to sell Harpoon missiles to Egypt to protect the Suez Canal, but Israel wants assurances that the sales will not undermine Israel’s military edge, which it considers essential in deterring Arab adventurism..

Sharon will begin his trip in New York, where he will tour the wreckage of the World Trade Center with Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Mayor-elect Michael Bloomberg. He also will meet with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

In Washington, Sharon will hold private meetings with Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The prime minister also will meet with congressional leaders — including Jewish members of Congress — and leaders of the American Jewish community.

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