July 2005. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is visiting Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at his Sycamore Ranch on the eve of the disengagement from the Gaza Strip.
It’s a reciprocal visit, coming a few weeks after Sharon’s trip to U.S. President George W. Bush’s ranch in Texas. Sharon shows Rice the sheep and the fruit trees, and then the American and Israeli delegations meet for breakfast.
Sharon begins by identifying with the suffering of the Palestinians and speaks of the great opportunity that will befall them in Gaza after the Israeli withdrawal. Rice’s ears perk up; it’s not every day that you hear Sharon displaying such empathy.
“There are only two problems,” says Sharon, turning his gaze to his left. “Dubi, how do you say ‘bloodthirsty’ in English?”
Sharon’s adviser Dov Weissglas chokes on his avocado salad as an embarrassed silence fills the room. U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams translates the term. Now it’s Rice’s turn to choke on her salad.
“There are only two problems,” repeats Sharon. “They’re bloodthirsty and treacherous.”
“All of them?” asks Rice. “Yes,” the prime minister responds. “All of them.”
Rosner tells one more story involving Sharon and brings it up to date:
In November 2005, in his last meeting with Rice, Sharon made a prediction. Hamas’ participation in the Palestinian elections could lead to the end of the road map, he said, adding that Israel fully backs Bush’s democratization efforts but that it wouldn’t back the murderers of Jews, even if they participate in the elections.
If Rice forgot Sharon’s warnings, she received an updated version last week from former defense minister Shaul Mofaz, who was participating in a strategic dialogue in Washington. Mofaz warned that the Hamas-Fatah clashes would continue, saying that Hamas’ goal is to take control of the Palestinian Authority, by force if necessary. In comments to reporters, Mofaz used a word coined by Major General (Res.) Amos Gilad: Hamastan. Only Mofaz jazzed it up a bit; he spoke of the “Hamastinian Authority.”
“The American strategy has totally collapsed,” Israeli officials said. “They carried out an exercise in democracy, and that led to the election of Hamas. Then they wanted to arm the Fatah operatives in Gaza so they would fight Hamas, instead of blocking the weapons and the money being smuggled into the strip.”
The Americans were planning a diplomatic blitz over the next two weeks, focusing on the Palestinian issue. After Bush’s speech, Rice will visit the region; the previous visit had been deferred, and after all, Rice has promised to come every five or six weeks. There will be the Quartet and the Arab League. The Americans are not rushing to switch gears. They still believe that strengthening Abbas is the only solution left, and that’s what they’ll tell Olmert.
Doubling down on Abbas doesn’t exactly seem like the summit of statecraft. Which leaves me to wonder: What will they tell Olmert about Gaza?
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