Los Angeles Times
JERUSALEM Moving quickly to reinvent himself to the world as a statesman capable of pursuing peace, Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon said yesterday that he is dispatching a team of senior advisers to Washington to explain his foreign policy to the Bush administration, congressional leaders and the U.S. Jewish community.
But even as Sharon welcomed what an aide called a “warm” message of congratulations from Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, the former general also paid a visit to Jerusalem”s Western Wall, where he promised that the city will remain the capital of the Jewish people “for all eternity.”
Sharon”s visit to the sacred spot sent a strong message that he will be unwilling to entertain the sort of compromises that Ehud Barak, the man he defeated in a landslide Tuesday, offered the Palestinians. Barak had proposed sharing sovereignty over Jerusalem, which both Israel and the Palestinians claim as their capital.
Critics say Sharon”s Sept. 28 visit to the Temple Mount, a site holy to Muslims and Jews that abuts the Western Wall, triggered the violence that derailed Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. Muslims looked at the visit as a ham-fisted assertion of Israeli sovereignty over the site.
Sharon”s day began with a visit to the grave of his wife, Lili, who died of cancer in March. He then plunged into the daunting task of forming a coalition government and reassuring Israelis and the international community that his crushing defeat of Barak will not spell the end of the peace process or drive the region to war.
“He wants to reassure everyone that he didn”t win this election by a landslide to make war, he won it by a landslide to make peace,” said Ranaan Gissin, a Sharon spokesman.
Sharon named a team to negotiate with potential coalition partners and renewed his call for Barak”s center-left Labor Party to join him in building a broad-based government.
He was said to be willing to offer the job of foreign minister to Shimon Peres, the Israeli statesman most closely identified with Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking efforts.
“The prime minister-elect will invite to a national unity government every Zionist party that is willing to participate in a government that will be serious, responsible and strive for peace,” Eyal Arad, Sharon”s strategic adviser, said at a Jerusalem news conference.