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EXCLUSIVE: Sharon-Bush Meeting To Be Cancelled

Until three days ago, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was still unsuccessful in his bid for a White House reception at which he could propose his Gaza withdrawal plan.
First Publish: 3/19/2004, 1:58 PM / Last Update: 3/18/2004, 11:33 PM

Until three days ago, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was still unsuccessful in his bid for a White House reception at which he could propose his Gaza withdrawal plan. Dov Weisglass, head of the Prime Minister's Bureau, was dispatched to Washington to try and secure this meeting. On Tuesday, unofficial announcements hailing a tentative meeting between PM Sharon and US President George Bush were leaked to the press.

A senior government source today (Thursday) informed an Israel News Agency correspondent that the Bush-Sharon meeting has been cancelled, with no alternate date offered. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom quickly boarded a flight to the U.S. to see if he could salvage the meeting, which seems to be PM Sharon's sole strategic goal at this juncture. Various reasons were offered explaining Washington's unwillingness to take part in the meeting or to offer endorsement of a unilateral Gaza withdrawal.

President Bush has reportedly noted the growing opposition in Israel to Sharon's Gaza plan – from IDF chiefs, to the Knesset, and even amongst the left-wing. He has therefore taken a step back – deciding not to allow PM Sharon to use an American endorsement of his plan as a way of bypassing Israeli public opinion, as well as that of the prime minister's own Likud party.

In addition to those considerations, Israel News Agency sources indicate that in coming days, a major announcement regarding charges against the prime minister and his sons is scheduled to be made. The uncertainty of the ramifications of such announcements, as well as their content, have made a meeting with Sharon into more of a liability than an asset – especially amidst the US election frenzy. Many of Bush's supporters are conservative Christians and Jews opposed to withdrawals from any part of the Land of Israel and the US President fears losing their important votes in places like Florida.

"The prime minister wants President Bush to stand next to him on the White House lawn and endorse the withdrawal plan without reservation," a Sharon aide told Middle East Newsline. "It's a matter of a few sentences, but this could determine the success of the plan."

The Israeli Supreme Court, for its part, has removed one potential roadblock for Mr. Sharon's withdrawal plans. It has rejected the petition filed by attorney Yosef Fuchs seeking to prevent Prime Minister Sharon from presenting his unilateral Gaza disengagement plan to United States President George W. Bush. Fuchs maintains that such a move is contrary to the laws of prudent government and should not be permitted.

In the meantime, PM Sharon has met with another foreign leader. Sharon apparently hosted Jordan's King Abdallah II on his Shikmim Ranch in the south of the country today. According to a report carried in Haaretz newspaper, the two leaders discussed matters of mutual interest. The Prime Minister's Office refused to affirm or deny the meeting.