Many leaders in the international community are troubled with the increasing probability that Likud chairman Ariel Sharon will be elected prime minister of Israel in early February, but US President-elect George W. Bush may have a different opinion, describing him recently as a "great warrior and hero of freedom and democracy."
For years, Sharon has been considered a military hero by some Western politicians, but a "persona non grata" in many diplomatic circles. Outgoing US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright expressed strong reservations, for example, when former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was about to appoint Sharon as foreign minister before the Wye summit in 1998.
Soon after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak resigned and forced a snap election last month, Wolfgang Thierse, president of the Bundestag (German parliament), told THE JERUSALEM POST: "In Germany we are very concerned about Sharon, and the consequences of what may happen if he takes power... Can you imagine how Sharon would continue the peace process? I have spoken to Sharon myself, and heard what he said, but did not hear anything he said that is in favor of the peace process."
Thierse insisted, "If the Israeli side is not prepared to make further compromise, then this demands that Palestinians become more radical. Israel cannot have a policy of lack of compromise, trusting that Israel will always be supported by Europe and the US, no matter how sensible or reckless their policies are." He indirectly warned Sharon that, "Both under US and European and German influence, [PLO chief Yasser] Arafat put off declaring a Palestinian state, again and again, always in the hope that this would lead to a better agreement. But this postponement can not go on indefinitely, because at some point Arafat won't survive it physically or politically."
Thierse has never publicly responded to Israeli objections to his remarks, and no German or European Union officials have sought to explain or correct them. The sense in Israel is that Thierse expressed the prevailing sentiments among many EU leaders.
In contrast, President-elect Bush gave a glowing account of his recent encounter with Sharon when delivering a campaign speech to an American Jewish audience just 5 days before the US elections in November.
In outlining his goal of achieving and maintaining peace around the world, Bush said it must be "a peace not only for this immediate generation, but a peace that I hope spans the 21st century." Interestingly, Sharon is calling for a "peace for generations" with the Palestinians in all his campaign speeches.
Bush continued: "In order to keep the peace, we must have strong alliances throughout the world... In the Middle East, we clearly have economic interests. But I'm going to remind this country that a safe and secure Israel is in our national strategic interests."
"Peace is the goal in the Middle East," said Bush. "And lasting peace is one that'll be agreed upon by the Israeli's and the Palestinians. A lasting peace will not happen if our government tries to make Israel conform to our vision of national security."
"That came really home to me during a trip I took a while ago," recounted Bush. "It was a fabulous experience. I had the honor of traveling the West Bank with Ariel Sharon, by helicopter. You can imagine what it was like to be given a history lesson by this great warrior and hero of freedom and democracy."
"He pointed over there and said that's where - when I was I kid - that's where I took on so and so. Oh, by the way, here's the boundaries of the way our country used to be," recalled Bush. "And from a boy from Texas, it looked really small. It's important for people to see the security risks first hand of this country. That's why I repeat: Our vision of security must not be imposed upon Israel's vision of security in order to gain peace just for standings in the polls."
Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.