Much Ado about Sharon’s Non-Plan

Act 2 begins this week in the drama of Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement and Gaza withdrawal plan that never was.
This is how it evolved, according to debkafile‘s exclusive Washington sources:
When Sharon went to visit President George W. Bush last month, he admitted that his plan had not yet matured but he promised to launch properly after Likud membership approval and its presentation to the cabinet. Bush thought this was rather an odd order of events but he promised his support.
But then the Likud referendum put paid to its leaders’ plans for settlement withdrawals in the name of unilateral disengagement. Sharon was left standing before a divided cabinet empty-handed on Sunday, May 9.
Just before the ministers convened in Jerusalem, Israel’s chief of staff, Lt.-Gen Moshe Yaalon delivered an address on the day set aside to mark the nation’s appreciation for the reservists’ contribution. This was his take on the prime minister’s ideas. The full disengagement plan, he said, should be evaluated in depth from its security aspects with an appreciation of its final applications. He was saying in fact that no such evaluation had taken place to this day and no one could tell where it would end up going. He recommended examining the shortcomings of the complete plan and “not just one dimension,” implying again that no complete plan actually existed.
Cabinet ministers also gave the prime minister short shrift. Likud ministers insisted they are bound by the party referendum that rejected disengagement and withdrawal. When Sharon said a replacement plan would be ready to go within three weeks, finance minister Binyamin Netanyahu remarked “You don’t change political plans every day like a pair of socks.” The far right National Union ministers Avigdor Lieberman, transport and Benny Alon, tourism, stalked out of the room. Change leader Yosef Lapid reiterated to anyone willing to listen that his party was committed to diplomatic initiative of one kind or another. Sharon announced he was calling off his trip to America to address the AIPAC convention on May 17 and would therefore not see President Bush.
Both the president’s national security advisers Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley, have notified the prime minister’s office that whatever replacement plan Sharon may put together, he should not expect a hearing in Washington at this time. The Bush administration has its hands more than full with the fallout from the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal and preparations for Iraq’s transition on June 30 on whose success the president’s political fate may hang. As the presidential campaign approaches its climax, Bush would rather Washington was not pulled into domestic infighting in Israel.
Aware of these currents, Sharon’s national security adviser Giora Eiland said in a lecture at the Washington Institute Friday, May 7: “There is no telling what the chances are of this plan being applied at any time in the near future.”
Had the prime minister informed the government of the real content of his most recent exchanges with Washington, he would not have been exposed to repartee about socks but to a major commotion.
debkafile‘s Washington sources reveal exclusively that the moving hand behind the mid-May rendezvous in Berlin between Rice and the Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qureia was that of Sharon himself. When questioned about the usefulness of such a meeting, the prime minister remarked that Qureia might be able to persuade former Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan to reinstate himself in the Gaza Strip and generate the conditions suitable for implementing disengagement.
After failing to sell his ideas to the Americans, his party and government, he decided to try his luck with the Palestinian prime minister, a further sign that he is at his wit’s end.
According to our sources in Washington, King Abdullah of Jordan, when he arrived in Washington on May 6, complained bitterly to Rice before going into the president about the assurances given to Sharon the week before on borders and refugees to complement his disengagement plan. The president’s adviser told him not to worry; the Sharon plan was in fact a non-plan.

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