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Whitehouse Notebook: Dana Milbank

An Israeli Hawk Accepts the President's Invitation

By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, November 23, 2004; Page A27

Those looking for clues about President Bush's second-term policy for the Middle East might be interested to know that, nine days after his reelection victory, the president summoned to the White House an Israeli politician so hawkish that he has accused Ariel Sharon of being soft on the Palestinians.

Bush met for more than an hour on Nov. 11 with Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident now known as a far-right member of the Israeli cabinet. Joined by Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., incoming national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley and administration Mideast specialist Elliot Abrams, Bush told Sharansky that he was reading the Israeli's new book, "The Case for Democracy," and wanted to know more. Sharansky, with co-author Ron Dermer, had a separate meeting with Condoleezza Rice, later chosen by Bush to be the next secretary of state.

Israeli politician Natan Sharansky, left, with bodyguards last year at Berlin's Glienicker Bridge, site of his release by the Soviets in 1986. (Markus Schreiber -- AP)

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Sharansky made waves this spring when he rallied with Jewish settlers to oppose the Likud prime minister's plan for a unilateral pullout from Gaza -- a plan that Bush had endorsed. Sharansky, head of a Russian immigrant political party, said Sharon's plan, though supported by a number of Likud hard-liners, would be "encouraging more terror." A figure who has previously railed against the "illusions of Oslo" and described that famous accord as "one-sided concessions," Sharansky resigned in 2000 from Ehud Barak's government over the Labor prime minister's plan to attend a peace summit in Washington.

"He's been suffering in the political wilderness in Israel with these ideas for some time," Dermer said of his co-author. But when it came to Bush, Dermer said, "I didn't see a lot of daylight between them."

Sharansky's ideas are clear: no concessions, funds or legitimacy for the Palestinians unless they adopt democracy, but a modern-day Marshall Plan for the Palestinians if they embrace democratic ways. The same hard line that worked for Ronald Reagan against the Soviet Union, Sharansky argues in his book, would work for Israel against the Palestinians.

In his book, Sharansky echoes many of Bush's favorite lines, talking of the need for "moral clarity" in fighting evil. Likening the fight against terrorism to the struggle with Nazism and communism, he described a world "divided between those who are prepared to confront evil and those who are willing to appease it" -- a common Bush dichotomy. "I am convinced that all peoples desire to be free," Sharansky writes. "I am convinced that freedom anywhere will make the world safer everywhere. And I am convinced that democratic nations, led by the United States, have a critical role to play in expanding freedom around the globe."

Just as Bush justifies the Iraq war by talking of it as a catalyst for democratization in the Middle East, Sharansky argues that while dictators keep power by spreading fear and hatred, democracies are inherently peaceful. "When a free people governs itself, the chances of a war being fought against other free peoples is removed almost entirely," he writes.

Sharansky had previously met with Rice and Vice President Cheney, but Dermer said this was his first meeting with Bush as president. Still, the book is flattering of Bush's leadership. While accusing then-President Jimmy Carter, who championed Sharansky's cause during his Gulag days, of having "blind sympathy" and "trust for dictators," the Israeli praised a Bush speech on the Middle East as "almost too good to be true," saying: "President Bush turned his back on Yasser Arafat's dictatorship once and for all." As previously noted in this space, that Bush speech lifted many of Sharansky's ideas.

Sharansky's publisher, Peter Osnos of Public Affairs, gave galleys of the book to Tom Bernstein, a former partner of Bush in the Texas Rangers, who forwarded the galleys to the president. A few weeks later, Sharansky got his White House invitation. The warmth for the dissident is nothing new: Sharansky, who spent nine years in Soviet prisons before Reagan secured his release, has long been a cause celebre for the administration's neoconservative hard-liners.

Dermer points out that Sharansky is different from other Israeli hawks because he is willing to engage the Palestinians in talks and give them land under certain conditions. Arafat's death, which came just before the Bush-Sharansky meeting, and the approaching Palestinian elections could provide those conditions. "This creates an opportunity," Dermer said, but he warned that his co-author "is somebody who constantly lowers expectations" -- yet another thing the dissident and the president have in common.

R does not stand for "revealing."

"Alberto R. Gonzales -- the White House declined to release his middle name, saying that Mr. Gonzales prefers the initial -- was born on Aug. 4, 1955." -- From a profile of the secretive attorney general nominee in the New York Times, Nov. 11.

Gonzales's marriage, divorce, real estate, professional, voter and driver records and his Air Force Academy yearbook all list his middle name only as "R."

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