Behind-the-scenes exchanges between President
George Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at
last week's Aqaba summit may hint at a certain
shift in the American stance, from the Israeli to
the Palestinian side, according to a participant
in the three-way meeting of the delegations.
The source quoted Bush as
telling his National Security
Adviser Condoleezza Rice that
"I see that we have a problem
with Sharon," while saying of
the Palestinians led by Prime
Minister Mahmoud Abbas, "We
can work with them."
At one point, an irked Bush
reportedly rebuked Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz,
telling him "Oh, but I think that you can [help
the Palestinians]. And I think that you will."
At the advance request of Israel at the summit,
Bush's aides had put security problems at the top
of the agenda for discussion. "The first thing
that Bush was required to talk about was
security," the participant said, adding, "It was
a request of the Israelis. So [Bush] asked Dahlan
to give a briefing."
According to the source, Dahlan gave an excellent
five-minute synopsis of the situation, and
concluded by saying to Bush: "There are some
things we can do and some things we cannot. We
will do our best. But we will need help."
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz burst in at the end
of Dahlan's presentation and said: "Well, they
won't be getting any help from us; they have
their own security service."
You could see that Bush was irritated, the
participant said, and Bush turned on Mofaz
angrily: "Their own security service? But you
have destroyed their security service."
Mofaz shook his head and said: "I do not think
that we can help them, Mr. President," - to which
Bush said: "Oh, but I think that you can. And I
think that you will."
Then Bush turned to Abbas - again according to a
script insisted on by the Israelis - and said:
"Mr. Prime Minister, perhaps you could give an
overview of the situation in the West Bank and
Abbas outlined the increasingly dire situation of
the territories, saying that the humanitarian
crisis was deepening, and that while recent
actions of the finance minister had eased the
problems, the insertion of new funding was
Sharon then interrupted and said: "The insertion
of new funding must be dependent on your good
behavior." Bush was again visibly irritated:
"You should release their money as soon as
possible. This will help the situation."
Sharon shook his head: "We have to deal with
security first, and we will condition the release
of their monies on this alone." Bush peered at
Sharon: "But it is their money ..." Sharon
said: "Nevertheless, Mr. President ..." and Bush
interrupted him: "It is their money, give it to
After that meeting, Bush turned to National
Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and said, "We
have a problem with Sharon I can see, but I like
that young man [Dahlan] and I think their prime
minister is incapable of lying. I hope that they
will be successful. We can work with them."
Bush was also pleased with the determination with
which Abbas rebuffed pressure from his ministers,
Nabil Sha'ath and Yasser Abed Rabbo, to toughen
the language of the Abbas speech, which he had
agreed upon with the American delegation before
the summit. They said it would cause trouble in
the Palestinian Authority. They argued heatedly
with Abbas about his comments, at one point in
front of the president. But Abbas insisted that
his remarks follow the outlines set out by Bush.
Bush watched the interplay and was pleased that
Abbas agreed to the American president's
suggestions on the draft remarks: "If you will
just do this, I pledge to you we will get where
your colleagues want you to go. But we are going
to take one step at a time."
© Copyright 2003 Haaretz.