The President is Calling

Posted: May 24, 2003 12:00 AM

Presidential calls get news treatment, and Tuesday’s got special notice because Bush called both Mahmoud Abbas, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, and General Sharon, the prime minister of Israel.

Prez. We haven’t met, but I am glad to speak to you and congratulate you on your very important post.

Abbas. Yes, well thank you, Mr. President. It is a very sad — not sad, tragic — picture out here these last couple of days.

Prez. That is why I am calling, Prime Minister. We can make absolutely no headway on any road map to a Palestinian State without an end to the terrorist attacks —

Abbas. And we can make no substantial headway in ending those attacks until we have solid evidence that Israel will make the concessions agreed upon —

Prez. Agreed upon by the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia. As you know, Israel has not ratified the road map.

Abbas. I have publicly condemned terrorist acts, Mr. President, and I can do no more than that —

Prez. You can initiate measures against Hamas and its agents.

Abbas. To do that, in the absence of a concrete Israeli concession on the road-map agenda, is the equivalent of suicide — for me, and for the cause of the moderates in Palestine.

Prez. Yes. Well, you have to look at it from our point of view also. As long as terrorists are striking at Israeli citizens there is no way we can pressure Sharon into going the next step on . . . on regional peace. But I am looking forward to our personal meeting next month.

Abbas. Thank you for telephoning me, Mr. President.

The president confers with his three advisers. They have all listened in. He nods his head, yes, yes, but they aren’t sure he is listening. The president is thinking. Then, with some resignation in his voice, “Okay, let’s go with Sharon. . . .”

Prez. Good morning. Good afternoon, General. Prime Minister. I am disappointed to learn you have put off your trip to Washington.

Sharon. I am disappointed to have 12 Israeli citizens killed, and more than 50 wounded.

Prez. Of course. We know something about terrorist casualties, General. Ask any New Yorker about terrorist activity.

Sharon. You are calling to ask about our settlements. About our forces in Gaza and on the West Bank. About the right of Palestinians to return to Israel after fifty — after fifty-five years —

Prez. Well of course, General. These are all waypoints on the road map to a settlement in your part of the world. That is our great ambition.

Sharon. Our great ambition is peace and security for Israel —

Prez. But there is the question, General, of where exactly the boundaries of Israel extend.

Sharon. Mr. President, Golda Meir once said to me, when she was prime minister, “Ari,” she said, “you know, the United States conquered Okinawa in 1945. This is 1972. The Americans are just now pulling away from Okinawa. We conquered the West Bank in self-defense. The United States was not being threatened by Okinawa, or by Japan, but didn’t return the island to Japan for 27 years. In contrast, Israel is continuously threatened — ”

Prez. (Looking up at his advisers, his eyes up to the ceiling, left hand tapping his head in show of frustration) — I know I know I know. Goddamit I know all that, General. And what you don’t know or haven’t paid enough attention to is that the United States has to use its good offices to wring concessions from both sides, and what kind of a concession are you offering, if you don’t get in there, reduce the settlements, make some large gesture to the Palestinian community —

Sharon. I could make a large gesture by giving them Jerusalem. Would that satisfy you, Mr. President?

Prez. (Teeth clenching) Anyway, General, it will be fine to see you in Washington and I hope you can reschedule your trip soon. And we can talk about all those things. Yes. Yes, indeed. Yes. Thanks very much.

(Looking up) Do I really want to go on being president?