Bush: No fence for Sharon; No Money for Abu Mazen

mg class=”picture” src=”/dynmedia/pictures/Swall.jpg” align=”right” border=”0″> Both Mahmoud Abbas and Ariel Sharon did their best to put a good face on their carefully choreographed visits to the White House on July 25 and July 29, respectively. debkafile‘s Washington sources have confirmed that both came away disappointed.
While both received warm pats on the back, progress on the road to peace is clearly bumpy. Palestinian internal security minister Mohamed Dahlan who accompanied the Palestinian prime minister in his talks with the US president last Friday, was busy Tuesday, July 30, sneering at the notion of dismantling terrorist infrastructures as an “Israeli invention”. He said he had no intention whatever of arresting terrorists.
His remarks preceded his conference with Israeli defense minister Shaul Mofaz on the next two West Bank towns to be turned over to Palestinian security.
Mofaz, for his part, made it clear that the handover would be made with great reluctance – and only to meet Sharon’s promise to Abu Mazen. At the same time, the defense minister announced he had directed the Israeli military to prepare for an upsurge of Palestinian terror more violent than the onslaught that preceded the June 4 Aqaba summit. He explained that the truce now beginning its second month was unlikely to survive the full three months allotted because no action whatever was being taken to carry out the Palestinian commitment to disarm and break up terrorist groups.
In Washington, meanwhile, Bush had a sharp bone to pick with Sharon on the Israeli security fence in mid-construction. According to a senior debkafile Washington source, the Israeli prime minister was the target of an American blitz on the issue and finally backed down. The US president did not buy the fence’s rationale as a barrier for keeping Palestinian suicide bombers from the West Bank out of Israel and stemming a deluge of Palestinian infiltrations across the invisible Green Line. Sharon was forced to promise to slow down the fence’s construction and refrain from including the northern West Bank Jewish town of Ariel and regional Jewish locations.
He should have known what was coming.
Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was sent to Jerusalem ahead of the Sharon-Bush encounter with a message on these lines: Better be realistic. President Bush’s policy is to wipe out, break up and destroy terrorism – and he is serious about this – not to place obstacles in the path of the terrorists and certainly not cage them behind a fence. If you persevere in the project you risk a clash. Better give way.
This message was meant as a warning that the security fence issue could bring Sharon into a conceptual conflict with the president on a fundamental issue. Israel wants terrorism totally halted and its infrastructures dismantled. The president has adopted this position and backs Israel all the way. So why the security fence? His formula is simple: If terrorism goes away the fence becomes irrelevant. If terrorism persists, there will be no Palestinian state.
That formula was at the bottom of Bush’s statement when he and prime minister Sharon faced the media after their Tuesday meeting. “The Palestinian Authority must undertake sustained, targeted and effective operations to confront those engaged in terror, and to dismantle terrorist capabilities and infrastructure,” the president stressed. He also said the Palestinians must fight terror “if we are ever to reach our common goal of two states living side by side in peace and security.”
A source in the Israeli prime minister’s party later indicated that the discussion over the security fence would continue. debkafile‘s Washington sources report that the discussion is over. Sharon agreed to close down work on the project in stages. A large Democratic Party delegation due in Israel next week is expected to line up behind the White House in a show of bipartisan support.
The US president did accept Sharon’s arguments on another sensitive issue, the refusal to release from Israeli jails those Palestinians convicted for the murder of Israelis or men committed to going back to terrorist activity. Bush was no doubt also influenced by considerations relating to the thousands of suspected terrorists detained without trial in special camps in the US and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Only last month, he turned down British premier Tony Blair’s request for the extradition of nine British nationals.
Once home, Sharon will have some catching up to do on subjects other than the security fence. In the critical days leading up to the two prime ministers’ White House sessions with President Bush, his own office headed by Dov Weisglass appears to have missed out on the skilful campaign against the security fence conducted by Abu Mazen’s staff in the corridors of Capitol Hill. Sharon only discovered how successful that campaign had been when he landed in Washington and the Palestinian arguments were thrown back at him.
Abu Mazen, for his part, did not fare much better at the White House than Sharon. According to our sources in Washington, the Palestinian prime minister set off for Washington last week with Dahlan, finance minister Salem Fayad and high hopes. He expected to return with a $200 m check in his pocket and presidential support on the prisoner release issue.
He left the American capital with a mere $20m and the promise that two senior administration officials would be visiting the Palestinian Authority to examine Palestinian economic needs. He also found Bush had switched round to the Israeli position on the issue of Palestinian prisoners.
All in all, the US president, say debkafile‘s Washington sources, spoke to Mahmoud Abbas in the same vein as he addressed Ariel Sharon four days later. You don’t want the fence? Fine, we’ll do what we can. But to do away with the fence, you will have to get rid of terror. If terrorism goes on then the security fence will keep on growing. Your only recourse is to start fighting the terrorist organizations and their capabilities in earnest. Until then, there can be no progress towards attaining a Palestinian state. What is more, there will be no money!
Abu Mazen returned home his pockets virtually empty of aid funds and on his own on the prisoner issue. Sharon was left stuck with a half-finished security fence.
Bush left them both with their assignments and went off on a month’s holiday.

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