Behind the Scenes of Sharon-Bush Meeting

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," April 11, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UN ITED STATES: We have a chance to achieve peace. The prime minister made a very courageous decision to withdraw from Gaza. And now, I would hope, as I said in my statement, the Palestinians accept his proposal to coordinate the withdrawal so that we could begin the stages necessary for a via ble democracy to emerge.


BRIT HUME, HOST: That was President Bush with Ariel Sharon. The Israeli prime minister at his side in Crawford, Texas, today.

When it comes to the Middle East, it's the nuances of how things are said, and sometimes it's the things that are not said that often contain the story. Which means that on a day when Sharon meets Bush at Crawford, it's time to consult FOX News analyst and former top Mideast adviser to two presidents, Dennis Ross.

Dennis, welcome.


HUME: How do you interpret the events of the day? Obviously, there are some disagreements that the president and his team have with Ariel Sharon, particularly regarding certain settlements, which the president chose to acknowledge but not to emphasize today.

What about all this?

ROSS: Well, I think you have to put in perspective what was going on. The president understands that one of the most important developments right now is the Israeli decision to withdraw from Gaza. Because when Israel withdraws from Gaza, it establishes a precedent where it dismantles settlements in what are Palestinian areas, number one.

Number two, something else is going on here.

HUME: As we look at Gaza there on the map, to the extent that we can see it there -- it's that little segment there -- that is an area which is overwhelmingly Palestinian but in which Israel has established a number of settlements which Israeli forces are there to defend, correct?

ROSS: Yes. 1.3 million Palestinians there, the highest birth rate on the planet, the greatest population density on the planet. Eight thousand Israeli settlers are there at the same time.

Now, Israel is going to withdraw from those settlements. And when it does, it's going to deal with what is actually the core of the problem in an interesting way.

People oftentimes talk about land for peace. And the truth is, land for peace is always a result. The core bargain between Israelis and Palestinians is security for Israelis, freedom for the Palestinians.

Now, in the last four years we have only had a war. When Israel pulls out of Gaza, what happens is, Palestinians who have come to doubt that Israelis would ever give up control of them will see actually they do. And...

HUME: They thought that Israel would never give up control of anything that it had taken control of in a series of arm conflicts over the years.

ROSS: Exactly. Plus, also a sense that, well, the Israelis will just want to control us, they won't live with our independence.

Now, when, in fact, Israel pulls out of Gaza, different story. Israel is getting out, and they can, in a sense, govern themselves.

But Israel also gets the chance to see, do the Palestinians assume their responsibilities? Do they take on security obligations?

So this core bargain of security for freedom or independence can be re-established. Then you can begin to talk about peace. That's why this is such an important development.

If you look at today, what was the president doing? What the president was doing, in effect, was saying, our eye is on the disengagement and we know the disengagement has to be managed. We're going to focus on the settlements only because we know it's important to the Arabs and we know it's important to the Palestinians. And I will use language that I can use with them, but I'm not going to do anything today that complicates the political problems that Sharon faces as he tries to disengage.

HUME: Explain those political problems for disengaging from Gaza.

ROSS: Sharon basically has lost the support of a major part of his own party and the settler community.

HUME: Because? Gaza alone?

ROSS: Because -- yes. Now, again, put it in perspective.

They feel that he never indicated he was going to do this to them. He never said in the last election this is what he was going to do.

He didn't go to the settlers and say, you know what, for the sake of Israel, because of the demographic trends, for security reasons, we're going to need to get out of Gaza. It's not tenable to keep 8,000 Israelis there when we have 1.3 million Palestinians there. It's just not tenable.

So they feel that somehow he didn't level with them. And also, to put this again into a kind of frame, there's a reason they're going to make this a big issue, because...

HUME: "They" being...

ROSS: The settlers. Because the settlers don't want Israel and the Israeli government to do this in a major part of the West Bank.

So if you raise the cost to this disengagement, to this withdrawal, politically, and in every other way, psychologically, then the idea is maybe either this prime minister or the next prime minister won't be so keen to do more of this.

HUME: So, politically, where does Ariel Sharon stand with all of this? Obviously he's under fire from some in his own party, perhaps many. How much -- first of all, that question. Then secondly, how much can President Bush help him in that regard?

ROSS: I think within his own party there are limits as to how much the president can do beyond what he's done. The fact is, politically, he will be able to carry this out because he (UNINTELLIGIBLE) government. He brought the labor party into the government.

HUME: And lost...

ROSS: And they're for it. In fact, the only reason they're in the government is to ensure that this disengagement takes place.

What Sharon was trying to do today, when he kept emphasizing the settlement blocks that are there that are part of Israel, he was trying to say to many in his own party, look, I'm not betraying the basic things we all have believed in, and these are going to be a baseline for me when I look at the future.

HUME: So he is saying that not all settlements will be abandoned?

ROSS: That's right. That's what he is trying to convey.

HUME: And to meet the terms of this part of the road map, so-called, do all settlements, at least theoretically, have to be abandoned?

ROSS: No, they don't. But there's language in the road map that says explicitly that there should be a freeze on all settlement activity, including natural growth.

So if you're building, that looks like it's not consistent with that language. But if you also listen to what the president has said and what the administration has said, our definition of a settlement freeze is not that precise. Even the language seems very precise.

HUME: Meaning contiguous housing may be OK, whereas new freestanding buildings may not, that kind of thing?

ROSS: That's right. That's right.

HUME: And that's sort of where we are with this, right?

ROSS: That's right.

HUME: Quickly.

ROSS: One of the problems with the road map is there isn't a single obligation in the road map that is understood by the two sides the same way. One of the things we need to do on this issue and other issues, like security right now, is become a more active third party between the two sides.

HUME: Dennis Ross, thanks for explaining. Great to have you.

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