Many observers had expected that Sharon's eighth trip to Washington as prime minister would be his toughest yet following US President George Bush's first ever meeting last week with Palestinian premier Mahmud Abbas.

Bush said after his talks with Abbas that a widely unpopular security wall being built by Israel across the West Bank was undermining confidence in the peace process.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon

But when Sharon pledged to continue its construction at a White House press conference in the Rose Garden four days later, Bush merely pointed out that it was a "sensitive issue" and hoped it would not need to be permanent.

US-Israeli axis united

One member of Sharon's delegation said on the flight back to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport that the understanding shown by the United States was proof of the enduring alliance between the two countries.


"If Sharon can keep the (Bush) government occupied with the outposts, then he succeeds in keeping America away from the really core settlements that have to come down"

Zach Levey,
US-Israeli relations expert,
Haifa University

"The connection with the US is very deep. Concerns about heavy pressure (being put on us) didn't happen - I didn't think it would," said the senior official. "No harm has been done to the link between the two countries."

Zach Levey, an expert in US-Israeli relations at Haifa University, said Sharon had every reason to be pleased with the outcome of his visit, especially over the question of the security wall, referred to by Israel as a more innocuous sounding "fence".

"Sharon and co did succeed in persuading the Americans that the fence was absolutely necessary," Levey told Agence France Presse. "The fence will go up. The Americans don't like it up but they will accept it."

Bush falls for smokescreen

Sharon did again commit his government to dismantling Jewish settler outposts in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, an obligation laid down in the roadmap for peace.

But Levey said that the issue was a smokescreen to divert pressure for the dismantling of settlements.

"The settlements is where the Americans can really exert pressure and legitimately. The issue of the outposts is on the margins.

"If Sharon can keep the (Bush) government occupied with the outposts, then he succeeds in keeping America away from the really core settlements that have to come down."

Sharon managed to keep much of the focus on other issues where US and Israel policies have always converged.