Sharon's attorney under fire for 'running' Israel's foreign policy

Friday, January 13, 2006

JERUSALEM Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's attorney has taken charge of Israel's foreign policy in the wake of his client's massive stroke.

Dov Weisglass, Sharon's attorney and adviser, has been maintaining Israel's contacts with the United States and other Western powers, particularly in the area of Palestinian relations.

Weisglass has also convened Israeli military and security chiefs to plan for Palestinian legislative elections on Jan. 25, Middle East Newsline reported.

Weisglass's influence has been heavily criticized by the parliamentary opposition. "It can't be that Weisglass is running the country," Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, a critic of Sharon, said.

Officials acknowledge that Weisglass has been virtually the only Israeli in daily contact with senior State Department and White House officials.

They said Weisglass has eclipsed Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom in relations with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other senior U.S. officials.

"The Bush administration has very little to do with Shalom on the informal level," an official said. "The administration has relied completely on Weisglass."

Shalom, a leader of the Likud Party, plans to resign from his post on Jan. 15. Officials said Justice Minister Tsippi Livni, who has also been wooed by the United States, would become foreign minister.

Officials said Weisglass has headed Israeli talks with the United States regarding arrangements to enable Palestinian Legislative Council elections in Jerusalem. Since Sharon's stroke, the government plans to allow the Palestinians to campaign and vote in Jerusalem for PLC elections.

Weisglass has also become the leading adviser of acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Officials said Weisglass recruited support for Olmert from President George Bush and Ms. Rice. They said Olmert would be invited to the White House in February as part of the administration's support for Olmert's election as prime minister.

Parliamentarians have pointed to Weisglass's continued professional involvement with projects in the Palestinian Authority, including the Austrian-owned casino in the West Bank town of Jericho.

On Thursday, Bush telephoned Olmert and expressed concern over Sharon's condition. A statement by Olmert's office said Bush reiterated his commitment to Israeli security while calling on Hamas to recognize the Jewish state.

"I wanted to tell you that our hearts are with Ariel Sharon, his family, his friends and the entire Israeli people." Bush was quoted as saying. "We know that this is a difficult time for you and I will do whatever I can to help."

Later, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush called to express his "deep concern" about Sharon, who remains in a coma. McClellan said Olmert was well known in Washington and the United States wants to work with his administration to help the PA.

"There are some important priorities on the agenda -- the upcoming Palestinian elections that are important to moving forward on building a Palestinian state and moving forward on the peace process," McClellan said.

Copyright 2005 East West Services, Inc.

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