Sharon to Deliver Post-Gaza Address to U.N.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Today, Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon delivers an address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. He is expected to receive a warm reception. That's one of the diplomatic dividends of Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, as NPR's Linda Gradstein reports.
LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:
For decades, Ariel Sharon has been vilified in much of the Third World and frequently criticized in the West for his role in Israel's wars against the Arabs and for sponsoring Israel's program of settlement building in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Last month, this architect of the settlements became the man who pulled Israel out of Gaza after 38 years of occupation. Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University, says Sharon's visit to the UN is a major diplomatic achievement that wouldn't have happened without the Gaza pullback.
Professor GERALD STEINBERG (Political Science, Bar-Ilan University): And now we have the prime minister, who himself was very much isolated and vilified, particularly in Europe and in the UN and other places, going to the core of the diplomatic arena at the UN, that's a big change.
GRADSTEIN: While in New York, Sharon is meeting with a host of foreign leaders, including those from Britain, Canada, Russia, Turkey and Jordan. Yesterday in New York, President Bush found time to meet with only two heads of state: British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Ariel Sharon. Congratulating Sharon for the Gaza withdrawal, Bush said, quote, "I am inspired by your brave decision to give peace a chance." Israeli officials said the president made it clear that he sees Gaza as a test for the Palestinian Authority to show that it can control militants and govern. The officials said the president assured Sharon there will be no further diplomatic moves unless Gaza is quiet.
Sharon also shook hands with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and met Musharraf's wife at a diplomatic reception. The handshake builds on this month's breakthrough talks between the Israeli and Pakistani foreign ministers in Turkey. Gerald Steinberg says the relationship with Pakistan is a coup for Israel.
Prof. STEINBERG: Pakistan is a Muslim state and it is quite heavily involved in inter-Muslim politics. And therefore, when you have a state like Pakistan, also a nuclear power, having direct links with Israel, foreign minister to foreign minister, that's a form of recognition. We don't get that from the Saudis. We certainly don't get that from Iran. Don't have it yet from Iraq. So having Pakistan in that role is seen as a major step in the normalization and the acceptance of Israel in the Islamic world.
GRADSTEIN: But the Pakistani government, like others in the Muslim world, says it will not agree to full diplomatic ties with Israel until the Israeli and Palestinian governments agree on a final peace settlement. Nonetheless, Israeli officials are hopeful that the Gaza withdrawal will at least temporarily ease the pressure for further Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank. They say world attention should now focus on the Palestinians and their attempts to impose law and order in Gaza. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mark Regev.
Mr. MARK REGEV (Spokesman,Israeli Foreign Ministry): Prime Minister Sharon is going to New York with a very specific political aim. He said now the whole international community has to help the Palestinian Authority get its act together in Gaza. And this process will succeed or fail on what the Palestinians succeed, or not succeed, in doing in Gaza.
GRADSTEIN: Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, has vowed to restore law and order in Gaza by the time Palestinians vote in parliamentary elections in January. But he's also pushing for a resumption of negotiations on the creation of a Palestinian state in both Gaza and the West Bank. Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem.
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