A wrong number and jokes about exercise

Sharon talked peace, not health, in his final interview before hospitalization.

nice sharon 88 (photo credit: )
nice sharon 88
(photo credit: )
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon laughed off questions about his health during his last interview, given in his Jerusalem office Tuesday, but declared he looked forward to bringing peace to Israel. He maintained his characteristic insistence that "we are not going to negotiate on Jerusalem" but did open the door a crack to talking to Hamas. He told Japanese leading business daily Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Nikkei) that, should Hamas win the upcoming Palestinian elections, "[if] Hamas's weapons will be collected and if the terrible Hamas covenant will be banned, then it's a different situation." In the midst of the serious conversation on the need to end terrorism, his refusal to make further unilateral withdrawals, and his commitment to the road map, his cellular chimed out a loud, contemporary song. It sounded "like something that your kid would have downloaded," recalled Eli Garshowitz, who joined Hiroaki Kanazawa and Ken Moriyasu in conducting the interview. The PM answered, saying, "Yes, yes, no. You have the wrong number." "We were holding our cheeks to hold in our laughter," said Garshowitz of the reporters and Sharon aides in the room, noting he got "goose bumps" thinking about the experience. Sharon retained his composure. But he laughed at several other points during the interview, including when a reporter asked whether the premier was heeding US President George Bush's advice to exercise more. According to photographer Ariel Jerozolimski, also a staff photographer for The Jerusalem Post, Sharon was in a positive mood throughout the interview. "He was more serious when he talked about the Palestinians and the political process. He was in a better mood when he talked about himself," he said. Jerozolimski described Sharon's presence as "perfect," explaining, "When he talked, I found very, very little deterioration. Just a few minutes where he spoke a little slower." "The prime minister was lucid and on top of things," Garshowitz said, but added that he was also "tired" and "a little bit worried." According to Garshowitz, at the start of the interview Sharon read easily from prepared statements relating to the upcoming visit - now cancelled - of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and bilateral relations between the two countries. Off the cuff, however, he mentioned his sorrow at the deaths of seven Japanese fisherman caused by a collision of an Israeli container vessel. "Israel is very sorry about the tragic event. It raised great grief among the people of Israel. We are a people that don't leave wounded people behind," Sharon said. "This is a mantra of Sharon as a lifetime warrior, not wanting to leave soldiers behind him in battle," noted Garshowitz. The Japanese "were very touched by this." Garshowitz described the whole interview as an attempt by Sharon to recast his image in the minds of the Japanese population, particularly with the comments about the deaths of the fishermen. "It wasn't Sharon who had been demonized so much in the past, but the caring grandfather type that wanted to show remorse." He also projected optimism, according to Garshowitz, as he talked about his upcoming trip to Japan following the elections and the prospects for peace. "I believe there is a real possibility to move forward along the road map and with God's help to peace," he said. Later he added, "If life will be normal here, we will be able to move forward. I decided to make an effort to bring peace to Israel. No doubt I will make efforts to achieve this." And he stressed his life-long commitment to the Jewish people and to Israel, "the only place in the world where Jews have the power to protect themselves. "I am a Jew and that is the most important thing for me," he said. "I know it's not only our right and we have the power, but this is our duty."