JERUSALEM ø Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's planned visit to the White House to seek U.S.
support for his policies may be jeopardized by reports he will be indictment on bribery charges.
Israeli officials said Sharon could be forced to cancel his visit to the
United States and even resign from office if a formal recommendation for his
indictment is released over the next few weeks. On April 14, Sharon has
scheduled a meeting with President George Bush in Washington.
Sharon plans to use the opportunity to discuss Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and other settlement issues, Middle East Newsline reported.
"Once there is an indictment, it's all over," a senior Israeli official
said. "The question is whether Sharon can postpone any formal recommendation
until after the Bush meeting."
Israeli media outlets reported that a state prosecution team has decided
to indict Sharon on bribery charges. They said the recommendation must be
approved by Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, who will begin his examination
Already, Sharon's largest coalition partner, Shinui, has called on the
prime minister to suspend himself from any duties should Mazuz accept the
prosecution's recommendation for indictment. Other political figures have
called for Sharon's resignation. Sharon has refused to comment.
The reports of an impending Sharon indictment came as the White House ø
after months of deliberation -- approved a meeting between Bush and Sharon.
The White House said Bush will meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on
April 12, followed by a session with Sharon two days later.
On April 21, the U.S. president has scheduled a meeting with Jordan's
King Abdullah. A White House statement said all three meetings will deal
with the "search for peace in the Middle East, the global campaign against
terrorism and bilateral and regional issues."
Israeli officials said that any Sharon meeting with Bush would focus on
the prime minister's plan for a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip as
well as parts of the West Bank. Officials said Sharon has sought U.S.
recognition for three Israeli settlement blocs in the West Bank as well as
Israel's right to enter the Gaza Strip in case of a Palestinian attack.