New York Daily News March 19, 2001

TALKS WITH A FRIEND:
SHARON'S AGENDA

By Sidney Zion

ARIEL Sharon will be warmly welcomed in the White House on Wednesday. That this is not news, that it appears to be ordinary, is really news. Because no American president since the creation of Israel would truly put his arms around a man like Arik Sharon.

Bill Clinton would smile, but his teeth would grind down. And Bush the First would have trouble keeping from his eyes the glint that spelled contempt for such a Jewish warrior as Ariel Sharon.

But the son rises differently. George W. Bush happens to like Arik Sharon. And this appears to make a difference in our policy towards Israel and the Palestinians.

"You can see it without reference to the friendship of Arik and Dubya," one of Sharon's top advisers tells me. "Both of them are ranchers, and so understand how to keep rustlers away from the cattle."

What?

"Arafat is the rustler, and Arik and Dubya are the ranchers. That's their connection, beyond politics. And they also know how to kill foot-and-mouth disease. Poor Yasser always puts his foot in his mouth, and his people die."

Translated, this is the optimism that the Israelis have on the eve of Sharon's visit to the White House. It may not work out, but I have to say it looks OK.

Bush has sent mainly good messages to Israel. First and foremost, he will not lay hands on - he won't push the Jews around, make them accept deals they can't live with.

This is a sea change from the Clinton policy, which in the event was part and parcel of the Israeli government under Ehud Barak. Did Barak ask Clinton to make him surrender to Arafat, or was it the other way around?

It doesn't matter now. Arik Sharon is a man whose entire career spells independence. He takes no orders from anyone but his own superiors, and today he has no superiors. Including George W. Bush, who he properly views as an ally - and, I hope, vice-versa.

But of course we have the upper hand. Israel needs us as its only real friend and its only armorer.

The first thing Sharon needs from us is help to construct an anti-missile defense against the Iraqis and Iranians, who may have already developed chemical warheads that could destroy Israel.

The Israelis have something going there, of course, but we have more. This is probably the top of Sharon's wish list.

Next is support from America for whatever Israel has to do to end the violence, the intifada that Arafat has refused to end.

Here, the signs from the Bush administration are positive in almost every way. We have made it clear to the United Nations that we oppose an international force to "protect the Palestinians" from Israeli "aggression."

Yeah, the State Department has attacked Israel for its "overreaction" to the Palestinian intifada. But the Sharon people poo-poo this as the usual reaction of the State Department's Arabists.

"No question, we're better off with Bush than before," Arik Sharon's people say. And that much is clear, or else why would he be feted in the White House this week?



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