Sharansky: More Harm Than Good

Ira Stoll - The New York Sun - June 4, 2003

Even as President Bush is in the Middle East pressing his "road map" for peace between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, Vice President Cheney is keeping his door open to one of the plan's foremost Israeli critics.

The vice president met for about 45 minutes at Washington yesterday with Israel's minister for Jerusalem and Diaspora affairs, Natan Sharansky, who voted against Israel's adoption of the road map.

In New York earlier yesterday and in a telephone interview with The New York Sun following his meeting with Mr. Cheney, Mr. Sharansky laid out his thoughts on the road map and on a series of other issues involving the America-Israel relationship.

Mr. Cheney and Mr. Sharansky were half a world away from Jordan, where Mr. Bush and Prime Minister Sharon are scheduled to meet today with the newly appointed Palestinian Arab prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas.

But Mr. Cheney and Mr. Sharansky have a history as a dynamic duo with influence on Mr. Bush's Middle East policy: The two talked at Beaver Creek, Colo., on June 20, 2002, four days before Mr. Bush gave his famous speech committing America to Mr. Sharansky's long-held view that democratization and freedom in the Arab world were necessary for peace.

"I was one of the big supporters of President Bush's speech of the 24th of June," Mr. Sharansky said yesterday morning at an event hosted by the Jerusalem Foundation. "I believe that people that are preparing this road map not all of them believe in this vision of President Bush that democracy can bring security."

"It's clear already," Mr. Sharansky said, "that some people are trying to use the road map as a way to get a Palestinian state without accepting a Jewish state. We will never permit that."

He said the road map "will do much more harm than good" if implemented as written.

"We played no role in formulating it," Mr. Sharansky said of the road map.

"Our future territorial concessions should be linked to the depth of democratic reforms" by the Palestinian Arabs, Mr. Sharansky said. "What concerns me is that there is no such direct linkage" in the road map. Echoing one of Israel's written reservations to the road map, he said that the road forward should be performance-based, not timeline-based.

In addition, he said that Mr. Abbas also known as Abu Mazen should change the curriculum and television programming that incites Palestinian Arab children to violence.

The success of Mr. Bush's peacemaking efforts, Mr. Sharansky said, "depends on whether the American administration will take very firm position on this."

Mr. Sharansky told the Sun after his meeting with the vice president that Mr. Cheney had assured him that it was Mr. Bush's speech on June 24 that still governed American policy toward Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. That's a point that was also made last month by one of Mr. Bush's top Middle East aides, Elliott Abrams, who described the road map as a "road map to implement the president's vision of June 24, 2002."

Mr. Sharansky said his meeting with Mr. Cheney also dealt with Iran's unclear ambitions. Mr. Sharansky gained international fame as a political prisoner in the Soviet Union, and he met recently with Russian President Putin. The Russians are helping Iran build a nuclear reactor, and Russian-Iranian nuclear cooperation was an important topic during the Sharansky-Cheney meeting.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Cheney, Jennifer Millerwise, confirmed that the meeting took place, but declined to provide further details.

Yesterday morning, Mr. Sharansky spoke of two issues that have long been part of the discussion between America and Israel. The first is the American Embassy. Mr. Bush, like President Clinton before him, has violated a 1995 law requiring that the embassy in Israel be moved from Tel Aviv to Israel's capital in Jerusalem. "We are still fighting for America moving their embassy to Jerusalem, " Mr. Sharansky said.

The other issue is that Jonathan Pollard, an American who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit espionage on behalf of Israel.

"After 18 years of prison, the time for mercy has come," Mr. Sharansky said of Mr. Pollard. He said that those who spied for the Soviet Union are out of prison and on lecture tours.

"The reaction has no parallels," Mr. Sharansky said Monday night at a dinner of the Aleph Society in New York. He recalled negotiations over Pollard's release during the Clinton administration.

"I am the witness of the fact that President Clinton did promise to Bibi Netanyahu that Pollard will be released," Mr. Sharansky said.

A lawyer for Pollard, Eliot Lauer, praised Mr. Sharansky. Mr. Lauer said he hoped that the new flurry of Middle East diplomacy would provide an opportunity for Pollard's release.

Still, he said he would focus on legal appeals aimed at gaining access to the federal documents that brought Pollard a life sentence despite a plea bargain.

"Diplomacy in a way is a lot more complicated than due process. Our focus has been trying to get due process," Mr. Lauer said.

Sun correspondent Benny Avni contributed to this report.