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Inside Politics

Big win for Israel's Sharon

Bush endorses pullout plan

By Bill Schneider
CNN Political Unit


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President Bush endorsed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to pull back from Gaza, but denied taking sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- This week, the White House press corps tried to get President Bush to admit he had made mistakes. They failed. Bush said he couldn't come up with one.

But someone else succeeded in getting this president to reverse himself. That's quite an achievement. It's also the political Play of the Week, and it goes to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

After meeting with Sharon this week, President Bush agreed to recognize Israeli settlements in the West Bank, accept a temporary security fence between Israelis and Palestinians, and repudiate Palestinian claims to a right of return to Israel.

In every case, it's a departure from long-held U.S. positions.

Sharon was, to say the least, pleased.

"I was encouraged by your positive response and your support for my plan," he told the president at a news conference.

How did he get Bush to sign on?

Frustrated Palestinians see election-year politics going on.

"I don't see why the United States would involve itself in two issues that are left for final-status negotiations, except maybe for political expedience in the United States in an election year," said Hasan Rahman, PLO representative to the United States.

Sharon did not seem unaware of politics.

"You have proven, Mr. President, your ongoing, deep and sincere friendship for the state of Israel and to the Jewish people," Sharon said.

Sharon's deal is with Bush, and Palestinians are enraged that they were left out of the negotiations. Bush is telling Palestinians to accept reality and that this is the only way they will get what they want -- a state.

On May 2, Sharon faces a crucial vote by his Likud party on whether or not to endorse his plan. That vote was in doubt before this week. Bush's endorsement is likely to put it over.

"I think the presidential position represents really as good as it could get for Sharon," said Israeli analyst David Horowitz. "The Israeli TV correspondent came out of the White House session yesterday and said that, you know, short of going to the homes of every Likud voter and telling them to support Sharon, Bush did everything Sharon could have wished him to do."

Including giving the Israeli prime minister the political Play of the Week.

Sharon's plan is has been criticized as a unilateral plan. But that's not exactly a term that horrifies Bush.


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