Prime Minister Sharon Meets With President Bush
Sharon said nothing to reporters lined up along the driveway as his car pulled up to the White House door.
Today’s meeting is the fourth in less than a year between Sharon and President Bush. Mr. Bush has yet to meet with Chairman Arafat.
Sharon, who has called Arafat “irrelevant”, was expected to ask the U.S. to end diplomatic contact with the Palestinian leader.
Earlier in the day, Israel’s defense minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, told reporters that the majority of the Palestinian people are opposed to Arafat.
“We are facing a new generation of leaders. They are not less nationalistic, but more realistic,” Ben-Eliezer said.
But for now, the Bush administration is following the policy that Secretary of State Colin Powell has laid out for them. He has advised the administration not to lock out the Palestinian leader as they attempt to keep together a coalition against terror.
“Frankly, I need as much flexibility I can have in order to walk the very fine line between these two peoples and their governments,” Powell told a congressional hearing yesterday. “Anything that constrains the president’s ability to walk that fine line and do zigs and zags from day to day I don’t think is helpful.”
The coalition against terror includes several Arab states who charge that the White House is pursuing a pro-Israel policy in the Middle East.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush would tell Sharon that the U.S. is committed to finding ways to improve the lives of the Palestinian people.
“The president will make clear the United States will remain engaged in the region and remain engaged with the Palestinian Authority,” he said.
In anticipation of the Sharon-Bush meeting, the Palestinian Authority sent the U.S. government a 17-page document claiming that it had arrested 195 militants, blocked 56 suspect bank accounts, shut down 15 illegal munitions factories and clamped down on mosque preachers.
The Palestinian Authority said it “remains committed to peacefully negotiating an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.”
Meanwhile, the White House announced Wednesday that Vice President Dick Cheney will emerge from months of virtual isolation to tour the Mideast in mid-March.
The trip, which is said to include Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Britain, will be the vice president’s first trip abroad since a visit to Canada last April.
Administration officials said the trip will focus on post-Afghanistan developments and the Bush administration’s war on global terrorism. Cheney will not meet with Arafat or go to Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza.
As diplomacy moves forward in Washington, violence continues to claim lives in the West Bank.
Three Israelis were shot dead late Wednesday night, and four more were wounded when at least one Palestinian militant attacked the Jewish settlement Hamra, Israeli officials said.
The gunman took over a house and killed a mother and daughter inside. Israeli police raided the building and killed the gunman.
The militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement released to a Lebanese television station. The statement said Israeli civilians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are legitimate targets because they live in territory illegally seized in the 1967 war.
Israel responded with an attack on a Palestinian Authority compound in the West Bank city of Nablus. Eight people were injured, according to Palestinian officials.
Also on Wednesday, Israeli soldiers killed a Palestinian teenager in the Gaza Strip and a suicide bomber was thwarted as he rode a bus toward another West Bank settlement.
Later in the day, the Israeli Army displayed eight Qassam-2 rockets and eight launchers, that it said was found under vegetables in a truck heading from Nablus to Jenin in the West Bank.