Bush to meet Netanyahu after all

US envoy calls Likud leader to schedule talks; Bibi had blamed Olmert for trying to block meeting.

netanyahu 224 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
netanyahu 224 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
US Ambassador to Israel Richard Jones called the office of opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu on Wednesday morning and invited him to meet with President George W. Bush on Thursday. Jones said that initially they did not think there would not be enough time for such a meeting but have since decided to clear room in Bush's schedule. Senior Likud sources said in response that it was important for Bush to hear Netanyahu's vision for Middle East peace. They said they did not apply pressure to receive the meeting, but the Jerusalem Post reported Monday that Netanyahu blamed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for blocking such talks. It is customary that when heads of state come to Israel, they meet with the head of the opposition to receive an alternative perspective. "It would be right if the president would take the time to listen to someone who represents more than half the people in Israel, who oppose the Annapolis process," Netanyahu had said. Senior Likud sources went further, saying that "given the extent to which the prime minister is willing to endanger the country to survive politically, it is not surprising that the Prime Minister's Office is going out of its way to prevent Bibi [Netanyahu] from meeting Bush." Olmert's spokesman said he was not familiar with any effort to prevent a Bush-Netanyahu meeting. A Kadima source shifted the blame to the White House, hinting that officials in Washington were not interested in Bush meeting Netanyahu because of bad experiences they had with him in the past. "At the White House they think he's a liar, because of his behavior when he was prime minister," the Kadima source said. Likud officials called such allegations "ridiculous." They expressed outrage that the only person Bush will meet with on the trip who opposes the Annapolis diplomatic process is former prime minister Ariel Sharon's son, Gilad Sharon, who Bush requested to meet in order to discuss the agricultural expertise he has gained running the Sharon family ranch.