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Last Updated: Friday, 16 April, 2004, 14:26 GMT 15:26 UK
Bush's 'blank cheque' for Sharon

By James Reynolds
BBC correspondent in Jerusalem

A few years ago, at university, I got a call from one of my tutors. "Come and see me at once," he commanded.

George W Bush with Ariel Sharon
Bush stands fully behind Sharon
"OK" I said. And I suddenly felt very nervous. I had not been to all that many of this man's lectures - and I was fairly convinced that his call had something to do with that.

I went to his study. He stood by his desk, smoking a pipe. "I've been asked to write you a reference for a summer job," he said, "But I don't know you at all."

There was a pause. "So, here's my idea," he went on, "write the reference yourself. I'll copy it out later and sign it."

He handed me the form. I hesitated - though shamefully, not for long.

And I sat down and began writing a fairly tepid appraisal of my character and my achievements.

We got what we hoped for
Sharon adviser
The tutor looked at me. "Make it good," he ordered. "Sell yourself."

So I started again. "James is a very talented student," I wrote, "In fact, he is an outstanding student."

And so I went on, for about a page or so - getting more and more into it, feeling free to ascribe to myself soaring skills across a limitless range of subjects.

I finished writing - and handed back the form, feeling slightly embarrassed. The tutor glanced at it : "That's it," he said, "just the job."

In his own words

I was reminded of all this a few days ago in Washington as I watched President George W Bush read out a statement at the end of Ariel Sharon's White House visit.

Settlers aboard a bus, watched by an Israeli soldier
Settlers are to leave Gaza, but many will stay in the West Bank
Mr Bush spoke of the Israeli prime minister as a bold and courageous leader. He praised what he called his historic and courageous actions.

And then he went on dramatically to rearrange US foreign policy on Jewish settlements and Palestinian refugees - in effect lining himself up with Mr Sharon's own position.

It was as if Ariel Sharon had written the president's words himself.

There was, of course, no public punch of joy from the Israeli prime minister.

As Mr Bush read out his statement, Ariel Sharon stood next to him occasionally nodding gravely - using that sort of impassive expression that politicians tend to use when they have just got their way but do not want to be seen looking pleased - or even smug.

But when the stage was clear, Mr Sharon's entourage was free to start smiling. "We got what we hoped for," said one of them.

Core beliefs

They were confident, perhaps, because they had done it before.

. The Israelis are determined to win their prime minister an invitation to the presidential ranch in Texas
Two years ago, the Sharon government spent months trying to persuade the Bush Administration to follow its lead in cutting ties with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

In the end, Israel was successful - President Bush no longer deals with Mr Arafat.

And now he also shares Israel's basic position on settlements and refugees.

In fact, it is very hard to find any remaining differences whatsoever between Mr Bush and Mr Sharon. The similarities are what stand out.

Both men have a tendency to see the world in the black and white of good and evil.

Each has put great faith in a simple political belief - that action is more important than consensus.

Bubbly

And both are ranch owners.

Ariel Sharon's men - those at the front of the plane - did help to write the president's statement
The Israelis in particular see this as such a striking bond that they are determined to win their prime minister an invitation to the presidential ranch in Texas to make sure that everyone gets this point.

This time though, Ariel Sharon and his team had to make do with the White House.

They made their way back from Washington on the prime minister's air force jet.

I was in the back of the plane - with the rest of the journalists, sitting among the dozens of bodyguards and security men that Mr Sharon takes with him whenever he goes abroad.

Quietly, as many of us were beginning to fall asleep, a steward took out two bottles of champagne from the galley.

He walked along the aisle, and through to the front of the plane - to Ariel Sharon and his men - closing the curtain behind him as he went.

Helping hand

We are now all back in Jerusalem.

The prime minister is getting ready for a Likud party referendum on his Disengagement Plan - a vote he hopes to win now that he has the president's endorsement.

And I have done a bit of checking.

Ariel Sharon's men - those at the front of the plane - did help to write the president's statement.

They are words which will now become the prime minister's most useful reference.

And by the way, the reference I wrote for myself at university did not work.

I did not get the job.


From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 17 April, 2004 at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.



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