Bush and Sharon met &mdash so what did Israel gain

So, what did we get? After months of expectation and postponement, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Wednesday, April 14, finally got his audience with U.S. President George W. Bush.

Since the beginning of the year, we have been told day after day, “Just wait and see.” So now that the visit is behind us what did we get? What did Sharon bring back from Washington?

On the positive side, we received American acknowledgement of Israel’s basic right as a sovereign state to defend itself against aggression. This is no small feat today. In acknowledging that Israel can defend itself, Bush said something that no other leader in the world would say today. Certainly not any leader in Europe where every action Israel takes to defend itself is condemned.

Aside from that, Bush recognized the right of the Jewish people to self-determination by acknowledging Israel’s right to remain a Jewish state. Here, too, with the resurgence of the anti-Semitism throughout Europe, this statement should not be taken for granted. It is hard to imagine many European leaders saying as much.

Bush also embraced Israel as America’s friend. This, too, is impressive. Today, the United States needs the assistance of states like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to help it fight al-Qaida, and the United States is seeking to rebuild an Iraqi society that was poisoned by decades of Saddam Hussein’s anti-Semitism. In this state of affairs it would not be surprising for an American president to eschew any public statements of support for Israel. Indeed, it is hard to imagine any other president standing with Israel’s leader while his military forces fight Arab and Muslim armies and insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In these days of diplomatic isolation and ostracism, it is comforting to know that we have a friend in the White House.

If Sharon had simply wanted to go to Washington to remind Israelis that we have a powerful friend, we could stop the analysis here and call it a success. Unfortunately, Sharon did not go to Washington just to hear that America has not abandoned the United States to our fate. Rather he went there to receive American goodies in exchange for his plan to surrender Gaza and parts of Samaria to the Palestinians while they remain in a state of war against Israel. And here he returned empty-handed. Sharon and his people claim that Bush’s letter to Sharon contains such goodies and so it is important to read the letter closely.

A good attorney wrote Bush’s letter. While the prime minister and his media flacks declare that the president agreed that the so-called Palestinian refugees not be allowed to immigrate to Israel, the president said no such thing. What Bush wrote was, “It seems clear that an agreed, just, fair and realistic framework for a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel.”

There is no commitment here. There is no positive statement that the United States will never back the immigration of foreign-born Arabs to Israel in the framework of a deal with the PLO or any subsequent Palestinian leadership. There is not even a simple declarative sentence stating that this will not stand. The president wrote, “It seems clear.” What does that mean? It means nothing.

The truth is that it is hard to blame Bush for the fact that, aside from comforting Israel with his declarations of support and friendship, he gave Israel nothing on April 14. He didn’t ask for this meeting. Sharon did. Sharon begged for it. The United States didn’t put Sharon up to his plan to surrender Gaza and uproot Jewish communities. He came up with the idea all by himself.

Given all of this, the question arises, why did we have to go through this edifying exercise in statecraft? Here one is reminded of the way that then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin decided in 1993 to take the European-mediated Oslo Accord and have the Americans present it as their own plan. It was Rabin’s view that American adoption of his radical decision to cut a deal with the PLO would make the agreement more palatable to a skeptical Israeli populace that viewed Arafat as an unreconstructed mass murderer committed to the destruction of Israel.

Then as today, Israel’s leaders went to Washington an offered the Americans a gift. Whereas the United States expected Israel to stand strong and not give an inch in the face of terror in spite of America’s interest in getting a peace process going, both Rabin and Sharon presented their U.S. counterparts with an easy win. No administration will be opposed to the notion of a peace process or an Israeli surrender of land. It serves the U.S. interest to have a peace process or a withdrawal process going, especially before an election. It mollifies the Arabs. It paints the president as a moderate champion of peace. And it costs the United States nothing.

Sharon, like Rabin, preaches defeatism and retreat because he sees time working against us and for our enemy. According to this view, in the event of a stalemate, Israel must surrender because our enemies have more staying power.

But there is an alternative approach to the situation. This approach says that we should fight the war waged against us with the aim of winning. On the ground this means that we fight terror everywhere it exists, we take away the bases of operation and support from the terrorists and we push hard for societal change among our enemies by enacting policies that will lead toward democratization. By so acting, it is actually Israel, not our enemies, that has the real staying power.

This is what the United States is doing in Iraq. It is also the opposite of what Israel, under Sharon’s leadership, is now doing and indeed, the opposite of what we have been doing since 1993. It is a policy built on the strength and resilience of our people and our democracy and the weakness of our enemies’ dictatorial terrorist breeding grounds. Too bad Sharon has so little faith in us. I’ll bet that Bush would have supported such a strategy.

Caroline Glick is the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, where this column previously appeared.


Edit: The good and bad of it all

Views: Sharon and Bush have handed the Palestinians a mother lode of opportunities