A common criticism of President George W. Bush is portraying him as a patsy of Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon. The Bush Administration, so the theory goes, has allowed Israel to dictate its whole range of Middle East policies, be it invading Iraq, threatening Iran or withdrawing from active Arab-Israeli peacemaking. In all these issues, Bush is accused of subordinating America's interests to Israel's. This is highly debatable. Bush has sanctioned Sharon's aggressive counter-terrorism methods against the Palestinians, but he was also the first president to extract an Israeli commitment to Palestinian statehood and settlement removal. The Iraq War improved Israel's strategic position by removing a fierce enemy, but it also put Israel under stronger pressure to leave the West Bank and Gaza. What is clear, however, is that Sharon and Bush disagree over the president's recipe for regional peace and stability, namely the rapid democratization of the Arab world.
In April, President Bush hosted Prime Minister Sharon at his Texas ranch. As they discussed the future of the Middle East, the president stressed the significance of democratization in the region. "It is a precondition for security, stability and prosperity", said Bush, according to the Israeli participants, "since only a democracy would want to halt terrorism and promise a better life for its citizens."
The Israeli leader responded: "I have no doubt that if the Arab world surrounding us would be a true democracy, Israel could take far greater risks than today." This was music to Bush's ears, but Sharon also asked the president not to overlook Israel's interests in the process. The greatest obstacle for peace, he said, "is the Arabs' reluctance to acknowledge the birthright of the Jewish people to establish a Jewish state in their historic cradle."