'PM blocking Netanyahu-Bush meeting'

Kadima source denies claim by Likud leader's aides, says White House thinks Netanyahu's "a liar."

netanyahu 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
netanyahu 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Senior Likud sources have accused Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of intervening to prevent US President George W. Bush from meeting with opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu when he comes to Israel on Wednesday. It is customary that when heads of state come to Israel, they meet with the head of the opposition to receive an alternative perspective. But Bush has not made time to meet with Netanyahu or with any other politician who opposes the Annapolis diplomatic process. "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 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. Sharon initially opposed his father's 2005 Gaza Strip withdrawal plan, but eventually was persuaded to support it. He has been a vocal critic of the Annapolis process through his regular column in Yediot Aharonot. In a column published on Sunday, Sharon called Bush "a true friend of Israel." Sharon also criticized the government for arming Fatah and for abandoning the road map's insistence on ending terrorist activity, dismantling terrorist organizations and confiscating weapons before negotiating an accord. "The prime minister and cabinet ministers talk about how important it is to strengthen Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] while we bury the people who died as a result of his strengthening," Sharon wrote. "As long as the terror and chaos continues on the Palestinian side, there is no reason for peace talks. After all, the goals of the negotiations are quiet and serenity, and not their [the talks'] mere existence," he continued. Sharon did not return messages from The Jerusalem Post. But a source close to him said he doubted Sharon would say anything regarding diplomatic issues to the US president. One Jerusalem director-general Yechiel Leiter, a former Ariel Sharon confidant who has led the effort to prevent the capital's division, said he did not intend to send a message to the president via the former prime minister's son. Leiter questioned the business ethics of Gilad Sharon, who was investigated in the Greek Island scandal, and said it was unfortunate that the US leader was meeting with him. "Bush has fallen into Olmert's trap and has been given bad advice," Leiter said. "It's one thing to support the prime minister. It's quite another to ignore the opposition." Leiter said the real message to Bush would be sent in a One Jerusalem demonstration Tuesday in which protesters will join hands in a human chain around the capital's Old City. One Jerusalem chairman Natan Sharansky, who Bush considers a mentor, will speak at the event. Sources close to Sharansky said he was not upset that Bush had not asked to meet with him during his visit.