By BILL STRAUB
Scripps Howard News Service
April 12, 2005
Speaking to reporters after a high-level meeting with President Bush in Crawford, Texas, on Monday, Sharon credited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas with "taking some steps against terror" since replacing the late Yasser Arafat as the authority's head last year. But he said threats to Israel's security persist.
"And therefore, I believe that in order to move forward - in order to be able later to move to the road map _ the Palestinians must take more steps because it should be completely quiet," Sharon said. "The situation, in order to move forward, must be full cessation of terror, hostilities and incitement."
Bush, who met with and entertained Sharon at his Prairie Chapel Ranch, responded by saying that neither side has much confidence in the other. The answer, he said, is a successful transfer of the Gaza from Israel to the Palestinian Authority, a move included in the so-called road map to peace that is scheduled to get under way in July.
The president urged Abbas to accept Sharon's offer to coordinate the disengagement plan for Gaza and a portion of the West Bank, maintaining that together they can "lay the groundwork for a peaceful transition."
"I'm an optimist," Bush said. "I believe that it is possible to work to set up a self-governing entity in the Gaza. And I believe a self-governing entity is one that is going to be peaceful, because most people want there to be peace."
The discussions between the president and Sharon were conducted with "important and encouraging changes taking place in the region," Bush said. The president intends to meet with Abbas next month.
Bush and Sharon also discussed a controversial Israeli plan to expand two established settlements in the West Bank despite a provision in the road map that seemingly prohibits new development.
The proposal remains a sore point between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and Bush said he expressed concern during the discussion "that Israel not undertake any activity that contravenes road-map obligations."
"Therefore, Israel should remove unauthorized outposts and meet its road-map obligations regarding settlements in the West Bank," Bush said.
Sharon responded by saying that Israel will meet all of its obligations under the road map. But he also said his country intends to maintain four West Bank population centers and pulled up short of placing expansion plans on hold.
The talks come at a perilous time for Sharon, who is facing substantial opposition to his commitment to remove about 9,000 Israelis from their homes in Gaza.
Bryan Daves, a political-science professor at Yeshiva University in New York, said Sharon is under pressure on several fronts.
"In Israel, there is opposition to the pullout from Gaza, while in the U.S., there's pressure to stop any more settlements outside of Jerusalem," he said. "He is walking a tightrope as to what will be an acceptable decision for both sides."
Bush, Daves said, "has to be careful not to try and undermine Sharon domestically. He must also be careful not to upset the chances for the pullout to go forward."