Be like Begin when you meet Bush

Those who are trying to find similarities between American President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon can discover them without too much trouble.

Both of them have ranches and love animals - horses in one case, sheep in another. Both of them favor a diet of "meat and potatoes" - and in large quantities. Sharon has a degree in law, studied the violin and has even been awarded an honorary doctorate, while Bush studied at Harvard, Princeton and Yale. Nonetheless, neither of them has the reputation of being an intellectual. A year ago, it is doubtful whether Bush even knew where Kabul was located or who the Pashtuns were.

Both leaders are "national-security-minded" and want to settle old accounts. Bush has decided to put an end to terror throughout the world, while Sharon believes that only the eradication of Palestinian terrorism is the solution.

Bush was chosen by a hair's-breadth majority after a court of law determined the outcome of an election whose results were highly questionable. Sharon was elected by a mammoth majority in a victory that looked very much like an earthquake. Both started their term of office with the ambition to prove that they were not what many people thought they were.

Both of them are still in their first year in office, but, as they approach the start of their second, there is a massive gap between them in terms of their "success ratings." Bush has transformed himself from the butt of many jokes to a true leader due to his performance following the terror attack of September 11 on the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center, while Sharon finds his popularity plummeting.

Sharon has set many records - in the size of the government he heads, in the number of persons killed in terror attacks, in the number of jobless in the country, and in the presently abysmal situation of tourism in Israel.

Bush has flourished as his nation's leader and has proven himself a credible one, while the precise opposite has occurred in Sharon's case. The meeting between a president who is getting better every day and a prime minister whose stature is steadily diminishing will produce neither "chemistry" nor a "beautiful friendship" nor any mutual agreement capable of bringing peace to this region. American National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice's beautiful legs, which Sharon so admired, have not changed, but Bush will be a different Bush altogether.

Sharon will arrive in Washington as the hostage of his own simplistic view that the heart of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is Palestinian terrorism: "You have to contend with terrorism and so do we, so then we obviously understand one another, right?"

Sharon has done everything possible to assign to American envoy General (retired) Anthony Zinni's mission here the limited objective of attaining a cease-fire. In Sharon's view, the Washington administration has no real game plan and Zinni has come here for the purpose of "crisis management."

"I see no strategic change in [Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser] Arafat nor do I see any change in the situation," said Benjamin Ben-Eliezer in a "closed session."

"It is said of Zinni that he has an `Arab orientation,' that he is a tough guy with a hell of a lot of determination. However, he can't order us around. We are not an American colony."

The defense minister's approach is closer to that of Sharon than to that of Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who is appalled by Sharon's attempt to turn Zinni into a Dennis Ross with a Marines crewcut, who comes and goes while Sharon does precisely what he pleases.

If Sharon thinks Bush will back his approach, according to which everything must be focused on stopping Palestinian terrorism, the prime minister will find himself sorely disappointed. The demand for a seven-day cease-fire as a precondition for "getting the ball rolling" is being interpreted by the American administration as a strategem intended to exempt Israel from the difficult recommendations of the Mitchell report - that is, a freeze on settlements (including the "natural growth" of existing ones) and the need for implementing all the signed agreements that Israel has so far not implemented.

The mantra of the seven-day cease-fire, even though the idea makes sense, is a trap that has been set for Arafat. After all, it's obvious that given the fact that the situation in the territories is at the boiling point, the prospects are very slim that seven days of quiet can be maintained unless this tactical ruse is accompanied by a "political horizon" that can provide Arafat with sufficient justification for having a showdown with terrorist elements and for disarming them.

When Public Security Minister Uzi Landau demands that Israel fight Palestinian terrorism with the combat methods that the Americans are using, he is forgetting that Afghanistan is on the other side of the world while Israel must contend with the Palestinians on its own home turf. Frustration produces terrorism, while thwarting attacks produces hatred that produces the next suicide-bomber.

With the land bleeding and with despair growing stronger, Sharon must present Bush with the outline of a peace initiative that will have broad horizons and which will generate hope for both Palestinians and Israelis. It is a matter of historical record that the most dramatic peace moves have been the products of Israeli initiative. This is nearly Sharon's last chance to follow in the footsteps of prime ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin who, with their daring, vision and readiness to make painful concessions, helped the Americans to help Israel. Here is a classic case where a daring change can prevent disaster.

By Yoel Marcus