5, 2001, 4:00pm EDT
The White House criticized Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon today
for accusing the United States of appeasing Palestinians in its effort
to include Arab nations in its anti-terrorism coalition.
"The prime minister's comments are unacceptable," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. "Israel has no stronger friend and ally in the world than the United States, and President Bush is especially a close friend of Israel."
Fleischer said President Bush's displeasure was communicated to Sharon through the U.S. embassy in Israel and the National Security Council.
Secretary of State Colin Powell called Sharon this afternoon to make clear that President Bush rejected the criticisms.
On Thursday, Sharon warned the United States should not repeat the mistakes of World War II, specifically the "dreadful mistake of 1938," when European democracies allowed Adolf Hitler to seize parts of Czechoslovakia.
"Do not try to appease the Arabs at our expense," Sharon said during a Tel Aviv news conference.
"Israel will not be Czechoslovakia. Israel will fight terrorism," he said.
"The United States is not doing anything that would appease the Arabs at Israel's expense," Fleischer told reporters.
After the White House condemned Sharon's statement, a Knesset aide said the Israeli leader had not meant to imply that the United States was acting in a "dishonorable way."
"What the prime minister intended was to make a warning to everyone, including ourselves, but especially to the leaders of the free world, that appeasement never works," Sharon aide Zalman Shoval told Reuters.
"The intention of what Mr. Sharon said was to make it clear to our Arab enemies, to the Palestinian terrorists, that Israel, contrary to Czechoslovakia at the time, can take care of itself where its security is concerned -- and it will," Shoval said.
President Bush has been seeking the support of Arab and Islamic nations in his effort to form a coalition against terrorism and to bring Osama bin Laden, prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, to justice.
Sharon's remarks came after President Bush said on Tuesday that part of his long-term vision for Middle East peace had always been a Palestinian state.
Fleischer said the United States would continue to press the Israelis and Palestinians to end the violence and pursue political talks.
Sharon's comments came as violence continued to flare in the region. Thursday night, Israeli troops and tanks seized two Palestinian neighborhoods in Hebron, killing five Palestinians and severely damaging the already-fragile ceasefire declared last month.
Later in the day, Palestinian gunmen shot dead an Israeli motorist and wounded another in the West Bank, a Jewish settler spokesman told Reuters.