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May 26, 2003

Sharon, Trusting Bush

Wiliam Safire has this to say about the Israeli cabinet session discussing the Road Map
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).

The former 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 process."

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 [more]