Analysis: Sharon’s presidential triumph

By David Horovitz November 4, 2004

The prime minister will be right there by the reelected Bush’s side

Notwithstanding the poker-faced professions of neutrality in the last few days, Ariel Sharon and his colleagues will have been dancing – albeit probably only figuratively in the prime minister’s case – as first Florida and later Ohio edged inexorably Bushwards.

For the president’s victory is emphatically the prime minister’s victory too.

The dawning of the second era of George W. Bush is vindication for one of the principal planks of Ariel Sharon’s strategy: Walk with the US administration. No matter, now, that he seemed to snub candidate Kerry by failing to meet with the senator when last he visited the US in April.

Bush praised the prime minister to the skies back then as a bold man taking ‘courageous and historic actions.’ Sharon lauded the president as a leader more committed than any other he had met ‘to the struggle for freedom and the need to confront terrorism wherever it exists.’ The mutual admiration society now has a new lease on life.

There are those who would cloud Sharon’s rosy anticipation of second-term Bush. They recall Jim Baker’s notorious reported (and denied) ‘F*** the Jews, they didn’t vote for us’ advice to George H.W. Bush 12 years ago. And they note anxiously that the Jews didn’t vote for George W. either – not last time and, despite the watertight Washington-Jerusalem alliance since June 2002, not this time either.

Then there are those who worry that one of the few world leaders with a closer tie to Bush than Sharon, Tony Blair, under relentless pressure from his own Labor Party for dragging Britain into Iraq, will now be pushing the reelected president to bail him out at Israel’s expense. Blair has been trying to silence his dissenters with the promise of an imminent bid for Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, and would love for Bush to publicly commit himself to such an effort. Indeed, in his brief congratulatory appearance on Wednesday night, the British prime minister all-but demanded that Bush now pursue peace between ‘Israel and Palestine’ with ‘the same energy’ he has reserved for the war in Iraq, and described Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking as ‘the single most pressing political challenge in our world today.’

But the doomsayers, on the whole, are those who fail to recognize, or are deeply unhappy over, the change in Ariel Sharon – the metamorphosis that has produced so similar a vision for Israel in the Prime Minister’s Office and the White House.

As long as it is on track, Sharon’s disengagement initiative preempts the kinds of pressures Israel might otherwise face from the reelected Bush, a president no longer beholden to Jewish, or to any other, voters. Pre-disengagement, an anxious Israel fought to minimize the problematics of a road-map framework whose emerging parameters it did not control. Now, Sharon is the trailblazer, risking his career to champion the dismantling of settlements even in the absence of a partner, and coordinating it fully with the US.

Yes, Blair wants to present disengagement from Gaza as a first step en route to substantive negotiation over wider compromise, and as being consistent with the road map. And, yes, he wants Bush to employ the same rhetoric.

But that’s no problem at all for today’s prime minister. Sharon has intermittently described the plan in just those terms. He agreed to include four northern Samaria settlements to underline the point.

If Bush supports Palestinian statehood in principle, well, so does Sharon. And both employ the caveat that substantive progress depends on the emergence of a very different Palestinian leadership – a non-terrorist leadership. Blair may have devoted most his remarks to our conflict; Bush, in his victory speech, didn’t mention it.

Which brings us – as so often in the past, although perhaps for not much longer – to Yasser Arafat. If the chairman, however improbably, returns to Ramallah and retakes the reins, or if his regime is followed by another that fosters terrorism, there is no likelihood whatsoever of the reelected president pressing Sharon to enter negotiations with the Palestinians over a large West Bank withdrawal and toward a permanent accord.

If, by contrast, whether sooner or later, the relative moderates prevail after Arafat, there will be a strong desire on the part of the international community, with Bush at its forefront, for a return to negotiation. Again, though, this would not spell pressure on Sharon. The prime minister has already demonstrated his willingness to work with the likes of Mahmoud Abbas. Indeed, he’d rather have teamed up with Abbas last year than go the unilateral route.

If Abbas or someone like him rises again, the second-term Bush will certainly want to ride out to meet him. And friend Sharon will be right there by Bush’s side.

© The Jerusalem Post