White House Rebukes Israeli Critique
By Barry Schweid
WASHINGTON –– Responding to an Israeli rebuke, the White House slapped back on Friday, rejecting Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's accusation that the United States was appeasing Arabs at Israel's expense for the sake of its war against terrorism.
In a rare public feud, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that Sharon's accusations were unacceptable. He described President Bush as an especially close friend of Israel and said the administration would keep pressing for peace with the Arabs.
Fleischer rejected the idea that the United States was appeasing the Arabs in an attempt to draw Arab nations into an anti-terror coalition.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said he had spoken to Sharon by telephone since the prime minister leveled his criticism in Tel Aviv on Thursday.
"I don't think there is anything to that comment," Powell said in an AP Broadcast interview with two reporters in his executive suite at the State Department.
"From time to time we'll have these little cloudbursts," he said. "But that doesn't affect the strength of our relationship."
Powell praised Sharon, saying the prime minister supports the United States in the current crisis over terrorism. "Israel has no better friend in the world than the United States, and they know that we know that."
In Sharon's first public criticism of the Bush administration and its Mideast policy, the prime minister on Thursday in Tel Aviv compared Israel's situation to that of Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II.
"The enlightened democracies of Europe decided then to sacrifice Czechoslovakia in favor of a convenient temporary solution" to the demands of Germany's Adolf Hitler, Sharon said. "We will be unable to accept that. Israel will not be Czechoslovakia. Israel will fight terrorism."
"The prime minister's comments are unacceptable," Fleischer said. "Israel has no stronger friend and ally in the world than the United States. President Bush is an especially close friend of Israel."
He added: "The United States has been working for months to press the parties to end the violence and return to a political dialogue. The United States will continue to press both Israel and the Palestinians to move forward."
Earlier this week, an unidentified administration official leaked to the news media that Bush's security team was working on a plan for a Palestinian state and that it would keep pushing its own proposals.
In the meantime, under prodding by Powell, Israel and the Palestinian Authority resumed security talks without waiting for a period free of terrorist attacks, as demanded by Sharon.
Powell, in the AP Broadcast interview, said Bush had spoken of a vision of a Palestinian state and Sharon himself had said "essentially the same thing" Sept. 24.
Sharon spoke out at a news conference after another Palestinian attack. A gunman posing as an Israeli soldier opened fire at a bus stop in Afula, in northern Israel, killing three people.
"Do not try to appease the Arabs at our expense," Sharon said.
Fleischer responded, "The United States is not doing anything to try to appease the Arabs at Israel's expense."
The Bush administration has tried to get Arab countries to support its counterterrorism campaign against the al-Qaida terrorist network in Afghanistan.
Most of the Central Asian country is under the control of the Taliban, an extremist Islamic militia.
Saudi Arabia and some of the other Arab nations approached by the United States have military bases that could be useful in an American attack. Others, like Syria, long have been at odds with Israel.
Bush and senior administration officials have said repeatedly since the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington that their target is terrorism, not Islam.
Israel has kept to the sidelines, as it did in 1991 when the United States formed a coalition that included Arab countries to attack Iraq and force it to reverse its annexation of Kuwait, another Arab country.
Iraq attacked Israel with Scud missiles, but then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir held his fire.
© Copyright 2001 The Associated Press