Despite the pressure put on him by the Palestinians and the
Europeans, prime minister-elect Sharon is working hard to
bring the unruly realities into line on many fronts.
Even though he won an overwhelming victory at the polls,
much of the leadership and the elites, both in Israel and in
other parts of the world, is deeply suspicious and concerned
by what Ariel Sharon will do. Part of this is due to his
policies, but much of it has to do with the demonization of
him by the Israeli press which has carried over to their
colleagues throughout the world.
Even though it was obvious that Sharon would win for weeks
before the election, the size of the victory and the fact of
the change in government has left people off balance and
Sharon is moving quickly to get his version of himself into
the public eye before any other version gets established.
He launched a diplomatic initiative early this week, sending
emissaries to important capitals throughout the world.
Former ambassador to France Ovadia Sofer left Monday for
Paris, for talks with President Jacques Chirac. From there
he is slated to go to Brussels and a likely meeting with
Chris Patten, the European Commission's commissioner for
In addition, former Foreign Ministry director-general Eitan
Bentsur was slated to leave for meetings in Moscow and
A more substantial delegation comprised of former foreign
minister Moshe Arens, former ambassador to the U.N. Dore
Gold, and former ambassador to the U.S. Zalman Shoval left
for high-level meetings in Washington. They are scheduled to
meet with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of
Defense Donald Rumsfeld and apparently also with National
Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice. They are also slated to
see leading senators and congressmen.
Reportedly the emissaries will explain the outlines of
Sharon's approach, consisting of several points. The first
is that he is very interested in advancing the peace
process, but stopping Palestinian violence and incitement
against Israel and restoring a sense of security to Israel's
citizens are his top priorities. He will refuse to negotiate
The second is that Sharon wants to ease the economic
sanctions Israel has imposed on the Palestinians in response
to the intifadah. However, the violence must be reduced for
this to be possible. Yesterday, Sharon said he had planned
to take immediate steps to ease life for those Palestinians
who are not involved in terror attacks, but the recent
severe upswing in the violence makes this difficult.
The third element of Sharon's message is that since reaching
a final-status accord with the Palestinians has failed,
negotiations must now focus on long-term interim agreements.
This point has also been accepted by Labor in coalition
negotiations. The Palestinians have not indicated their
position on this matter yet.
Fourth, Sharon is very interested in close ties both with
the Bush administration and with both parties in Congress,
and therefore does not plan to do anything that would
negatively affect U.S. interests.
Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon found time on Sunday to
meet with Abe Foxman, the director of Bnai Brith's Anti-
Defamation League. The meeting at Likud headquarters in Tel
Aviv was intended to signify the great importance Sharon is
putting on his relations with American Jewry. While Sharon's
three predecessors dealt mainly with U.S. President Clinton
and his officials, Sharon wants to involve American Jewry,
in Foxman's words, "as a central instrument of Israeli
policy, and irrespective of its support or lack of support
for his candidacy as prime minister, he'll move to enhance
relations with American Jewry."
The Bush Administration has already made clear that it does
not plan to conduct its Middle East policy with the same
level of intensity that the Clinton Administration devoted
to the issue. That means the connection between the Israeli
and American governments, irrespective of Sharon's election,
will be returning to the traditional focus on the American
Jewish community as a channel to the Senate and House of
Representatives and as influential forces on the
Another reason for the change is that the new Bush
Administration has few Jews in positions of importance, in
contrast to the Clinton Administration.
As part of his post-election meetings with key officials,
Sharon also met with the top tier of the Jewish Agency,
telling them he plans to emphasize immigration and Jewish
Sharon also met with business leaders to explain his
policies in the economic sphere and to assure them that he
places great emphasis on economic discipline and growth (see