June 9 Prime Minister Ariel Sharon arrived in Washington for high-level talks with members of the Bush administration. Sharon is expected to deliver one major message on his sixth visit to the U.S. - "No [Israeli] withdrawal to the 1967 borders. Sharon will meet with President George W. Bush on Monday. Following Sharon's visit, Bush is expected to present a revised version of the Americans' Middle East vision, but will not lay down a timetable for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Sharon will meet today with U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. Ahead of his visit to Washington, the prime minister published an article in the New York Times defining his view of "the way forward in the Middle East." While calling for adherence to UN Resolution 242 as a basis for negotiations, Sharon rejected a withdrawal to the 1967 borders, which he said would endanger Israel's existence.
Because the gaps between Israelis and Palestinians are wide, Sharon wrote that "the only serious option for a successful negotiated settlement is one based on a long-term interim agreement that sets aside for the future issues that cannot be bridged at present."
Nearly two years of Palestinian violence and terror during the Intifada have convinced Israel to retain its position "not to return to the vulnerable 1967 armistice lines, re-divide Jerusalem or concede its right to defensible borders under Resolution 242," Sharon wrote.
Sharon rejected the imposition of a rigid timetable to the peace process, saying that a permanent settlement could only follow "changes in the reality of Israeli-Palestinian relations on the ground."
Sharon did not include in the article, but is expected to tell his American hosts, that negotiations will not be possible until there were true reforms in the Palestinian Authority, including structural and strategic changes, and a complete cessation of terrorist attacks against Israel.
Sharon spokesman Ra'anan Gissin said that the question of whether Israel would expel Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat from the territories is not expected to come up in the White House talks, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Bush: U.S. not ready for timetable to negotiations
Following his talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at Camp David over the weekend, President Bush said he was not ready to set a timetable for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, including the creation of a Palestinian state in early 2003, as Mubarak had suggested.
"We're not ready to lay down any specific calendar, except to say that we have to get started quickly -- soon -- so we can seize the moment," Bush said. Instead, the president called for the immediate creation of "the institutions necessary for the emergence of a Palestinian state which, on the one hand, will give hope to the Palestinian people and, on the other hand, say to the world, including the neighborhood, that there is a chance to live in peace, to defeat terror."
Bush reiterated his disappointment in Arafat. "I have constantly said I am disappointed in his leadership. I think he has let the Palestinian people down... Chairman Arafat must do everything in his power to stop the violence, to stop the attacks on Israel. I mean everything."
Mubarak called on the world to give Arafat another chance. "We should give this man a chance," he said. "We are working very hard with cooperation with the United States for the reform in the Palestinian Authority. Such a chance will prove that he is going to deliver or not. If he's going to deliver, I think everybody would support him. If he's not going to deliver, his people will tell him that."
The Bush administration is expected to present a revised outline of its Middle East vision in the coming days. "After my meetings with President Mubarak and Prime Minister Sharon, I'll talk to our country about how I think we should move forward," Bush said.
On Thursday, Foreign Affairs Minister Shimon Peres suggested that the new American peace initiative would have "the Palestinians... give up on the right of return in exchange for Israel giving up on the settlements."
However, a senior U.S. official said the Bush administration is "not doing any real thinking on permanent status issues," CNN reported.
Ellis Shuman Israelinsider