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The Texas Hill Country town of Crawford boasts 701 residents, one gas station, five churches, one restaurant and, on Monday, two heads of state – President George Bush and Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. You can be sure the Texans in that tiny town were outnumbered by Jews and Arabs.
In January of 1968, President Lyndon Johnson was the first presidential Texan to host an Israeli Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol, for a Texas good time and some “barbecue diplomacy” at his Hill Country cattle ranch in Johnson City. That was seven U. S. presidents ago, and was a year before Yasser Arafat founded the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and elevated terrorism to new heights.
Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who I hosted in the United States and to whom I was a confidant, was never invited to the Georgia home of President Jimmy Carter, even after making peace with Egypt. Neither was Mr. Begin invited to the Reagan ranch after Israel’s stunning attack on Iraq’s nuclear reactor.
The significance of President George Bush hosting Prime Minister Ariel Sharon should not be underestimated. “Middle East peace” is no longer synonymous with “Israel.” Both leaders came into office in 2001, and are in absolute agreement about the war on terrorism. Ultimately, terrorism, not territory will be the ruling factor at the end of the day. Sharon noted in the press conference following the meeting that “everyone should make a commitment not to accept any temporary solutions against terror, but eradicate it once and for all.”
A fresh wind is blowing in the Middle East. It has become unpopular to shield the radical elements of Islamic fundamentalism, as Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Osama bin Laden and Yasser Arafat have discovered. President Bush has sent a signal to Arab countries and regimes: If they wish to be invited to the ranch for barbeque diplomacy, they must sever ties with the terrorist factions.
Neither Syria nor Iran can be pleased with the Bush-Sharon meeting at Prairie Chapel Ranch. It appears that in the game of Middle Eastern poker, Israel may no longer be a bargaining chip to appease Arab rage.
The fact that Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen was not invited to Crawford speaks volumes. This is a very clear signal from President Bush that the PLO and its representatives will be persona non grata as long as they fuel and feed terrorists within their borders.
As a Bible-believing president in the Bible Belt, meeting the prime minister of the Bible land, it would be exceedingly difficult not to believe that Mr. Bush would weigh his decisions regarding Israel in light of biblical principles.
Standing side-by-side with the president, Mr. Sharon declared that Israel would not move forward on the Road Map until Mahmoud Abbas takes more steps to ensure a “full cessation of terror.” “It should be completely quiet,” said Mr. Sharon. He pledged Monday to remove unauthorized outposts and to transfer cities to Palestinian security control. He also said that “major population centers in Judea and Samaria would remain in Israeli hands.”
There is no doubt that just as Sharon’s historic march to the Temple Mount was the catalyst for his election in 2000, his decision to evict some 9,000 Bible-believing settlers from Gaza could, indeed, become his political Achilles’ heel. Sharon’s former boss, Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is waiting in the wings.