26th December 13:34
Rice's Visit, Israel's Government
An interesting item from DEBKA
Rice Plays Musical Chairs with Sharon Government
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report
What did the US President's national security adviser Condoleezza Rice
really come to the Middle East for? To get the Abu Mazen-Dahlan team
started on the war against Palestinian terror? Not a chance. They
presented her with a list of demands a mile long when she met the duo
in Jericho on Saturday, June 28. They also informed her that a
partial, temporary, conditional truce was their limit. If that would
not do, the Palestinians would turn to the international community for
guarantees and a large buffer force to take over Washington's role as
go-between. What about the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza
Strip and Bethlehem? That package was neatly tied up well in advance
of the presidential adviser's visit -- as DEBKAfile reported on June
DEBKAfile's political sources have discovered that Rice had quite
different fish to fry during her day in Israel -- Sunday, June 29,
namely the remaking of Ariel Sharon's government.
Foreign minister Silvan Shalom was handed the first pink slip.
In a private conversation at the Aqaba summit on June 4, we are told
of a remark Bush made to Sharon suggesting that, in keeping with
Israel's new relationship with the Palestinians and the onset of a new
Middle East, it might be a good idea to rid his government of its
right wing coalition partners and replace them with the more amenable
opposition Labor party. The ministers he was referring to come from
the pro-settlement National Religious Party and National Union: Effie
Eytam, Yitzhak Levy, Zvi Handel, Benny Eylon and Avigdor Lieberman.
This sensitive chat had its corollary in Washington, taken forward a
step at a time during subsequent trips the Israeli prime
minister’s chef de bureau Dov Weisglass paid to the White House
for settling the details of Israel's troop pullback.
Weisglass was given to understand that the Bush administration while
not necessarily a fan of Israel's Labor party was keen to have Shimon
Peres, Labor's interim chairman and popular figure with the
Palestinians as a peace negotiator, back at the helm of the foreign
ministry. The reckoning in Washington is that a Sharon government made
up of biddable Likud ministers, Labor and Change would quickly freeze
the right-wingers out, including the few Lkud ministers who would be
uncomfortable with the new setup and its policies.
Without them, the Israeli government would be more amenable to the
next stage of the Bush blueprint for an Israeli-Palestinian peace that
will come up some time during the presidential election year of 2004.
Then, an Israeli government will be needed in Jerusalem with a
guaranteed ability to execute evacuations -- not only of fringe
outposts, but of thriving Jewish communities in the Gaza Strip and
West Bank to make way for a Palestinian state. The White House does
not want to risk this plan going awry.
Before leaving Jerusalem therefore, Rice met Shalom privately to
broach a delicate request: Would he mind vacating his ministerial seat
in favor of Peres? (Only a few months ago Shalom was moved sideways
out of the finance ministry to make room for Binyamin Netanyahu). If
he acceded, she said, he would be deemed in Washington to have made an
invaluable contribution to a historic process and the future would
For obvious reasons, no hint of this maneuver was published. The only
content officially leaked from the Rice luncheon meeting with Israel's
inner cabinet was the ministers' solid resistance to her criticism of
the security fence under construction along the Israel-West Bank
border. She repeated the Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas's
complaint that the fence provided a pretext for grabbing West Bank
land. Sharon rose to declare it was an essential device for protecting
Israeli locations against terrorist incursions and there would be no
compromise on the safety of Israeli citizens.
Change minister Avraham Poraz added: "If the Palestinians fail to
prevent terrorist attacks, the fence will be there to hold them back."
For the first time in military history, a defense line was thus called
up to serve both as a red herring and a substitute for military action
to eliminate terrorists. The Sharon government has clearly bowed to
the Bush government's demand to give up fighting terror. Under assault
now is a poor substitute, the partially built static defense line that
is no proof against continuing terrorist incursions.