January 6, 2006


U.S. Is Hoping Israelis Keep Sharon's Plan a Top Priority (STEVEN R. WEISMAN, 1/06/06, NY Times)

The administration was almost openly hoping that Mr. Sharon, at the head of his new centrist party, Kadima, would win the Israeli election in March and take another set of bold steps, perhaps withdrawing from other parts of the West Bank. Now there are doubts whether a successor will have the political strength or desire to follow that path.

"Sharon's illness is a major setback to the administration," said Aaron David Miller, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center and a former Middle East adviser in several administrations.

"Disengagement was not only Israel's policy but America's," he added. Mr. Sharon "has been the president's insurance policy against having to engage on an issue that the administration has willfully chosen not to make a priority."

The new leader wont have a realistic option of ignoring both the Israeli public will and the United States.

Without Sharon, Bush's Mideast Path Uncertain (Tyler Marshall and Laura King, January 6, 2006, LA Times)

The disabling of Sharon removes the most important individual driving events in this highly volatile corner of the world and the man embraced by Bush as the best chance for settling the conflict that has raged for more than half a century.

While publicly backing a step-by-step plan called the "road map" that gives each side a series of responsibilities that would lead to final settlement of the conflict, Bush in fact went along with Sharon's unilateral approach.

"Bush has a stance but not a strategy" for the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, said William Quandt, who as a senior White House advisor during the Carter administration helped negotiate the Camp David accords. "He supported Sharon."

Without Sharon, the administration faces a landscape loaded with questions and the danger of a power vacuum in Israel at a time when the Palestinian leadership is weak and ill-organized.

For Bush, Sharon's departure from the political scene comes as a personal blow. Sharon was elected prime minister just 17 days after Bush took office, making him the only Israeli leader the U.S. president has dealt with. Although Sharon could be difficult, he cultivated a personal relationship with Bush and, by most accounts, succeeded in making it work.

This set the stage for the larger political relationship between the United States and Israel.

The stakes have been high for both men. In the post-Sept. 11 period, the administration has said that progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue is important to help damp Islamic anger toward the United States.

As the U.S. struggled first with the unpredictability of Yasser Arafat's sunset years and the turmoil that followed his death 14 months ago, Bush continued to back Sharon as the Israeli prime minister built a West Bank barrier and withdrew from the Gaza Strip.

Sharon, often irascible and prickly, dictated the timing and conditions last summer of his actions in removing Israeli forces from Gaza and dismantling 21 Jewish settlements there and four others in the West Bank.

It was the first significant move during the Bush presidency toward the two-state solution the administration has advocated.

"He's been a pain in the neck, but an essential pain in the neck," said a senior Bush administration official who declined to be identified by name because his remarks were not authorized.

Both men just followed Natan Sharansky.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 6, 2006 7:40 AM
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