Arafat turns Sharon, Bush into friends

When Ariel Sharon was elected prime minister, a number of Jews feared he would provoke a rift with the U.S. government. They said Sharon was too much of a right-winger and stood as an impediment to peace with the Palestinians.

But during his first visit to Washington this week as Israel's leader, Sharon couldn't have had a warmer welcome. By all reports, his meeting with President Bush went extremely well.

But neither Sharon nor Bush should be congratulated for the congenial visit. The man who made it possible is Yasser Arafat.

The Palestinian leader has become a common enemy of both Israel and the United States. Both countries have urged Arafat to order an end to violence so peace talks can resume. At the very least, they've asked that Arafat make a speech in Arabic condemning attacks on Israelis. He has yet to do so.

Arafat is no longer seen as a partner for peace. Even those in the peace movement question his sincerity, especially after he walked away from generous offers by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Bush's view of Arafat seems to mirror Sharon's. As a result, the United States is not pushing Sharon to act against his better judgment.

In fact, both Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell agree with Sharon that his top priority should be ensuring the security of every Israeli during this period of Palestinian violence. No one objected when Sharon said he might have to take steps that Palestinians won't like in order to end the violence.

Polls indicate Israel's public wants Sharon to fulfill that campaign promise. He returned at the end of this week to an Israel that has experienced numerous terrorist incidents while he was in Washington. Israelis are waiting to see how Sharon will respond.

In the not too distant future, Arafat will probably pay for his intransigence. We hope he will quickly learn his lesson and give Sharon a reason to return to the peace table.

In the meantime, we can thank Arafat for helping bring Sharon and Bush closer together.