Sharon says victory in Iraq boosts Palestinian peace bid
Israeli prime minister says he is willing to give up Jewish settlements but has doubts about US-backed road map'
JERUSALEM The Iraq war had created an opening for reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal more quickly than expected, and Israel was willing to give up some Jewish settlements, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in an interview published yesterday.
Sharon is considered the leading architect of Jewish settlement expansion over the past three decades.
Despite the apparent softening of some positions, Sharon reiterated in the interview with the Haaretz daily that Israel had major reservations about a USbacked "road map" to Palestinian statehood by 2005.
Among other things, Sharon wants a clause added that Palestinians drop their insistence on the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees before final peace talks.
The Palestinians have said Sharon is trying to scuttle the plan by raising new demands, and Israeli critics have long accused him of misleading the world and the Israeli public by hinting at moderate intentions while cracking down on the Palestinians and expanding Jewish settlements.
Sharon reiterated that Palestinian statehood was inevitable. "Eventually there will be a Palestinian state I do not think we have to rule over another people and run their lives."
Sharon's top aide, Dov Weisglass, is presenting Israel's concerns to US officials in Washington this week.
The three-phase plan was formulated by the "quartet of Middle East mediators" the US, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia and is to be formally unveiled after the Palestinian prime minister-designate, Mahmoud Abbas, is sworn in, possibly later this week.
Sharon said yesterday that the war in Iraq and the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime had "sent shock waves through the Middle East and open the door to great change".
"The Arab world in general, and the Palestinians in particular, have been shaken. There is therefore a chance to reach an agreement faster than people think."
The Palestinians must replace their leadership and battle terrorism if negotiations were to succeed, Sharon said. He endorsed Abbas, saying he "understands that it is impossible to vanquish Israel by means of terrorism".
Nabil Abu Rdeneh, an adviser to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, accused Sharon of trying to delay the implementation of the road-map by making new demands. The plan would force Israel to freeze settlement construction and could break up Sharon's hawkish coalition.
"What Sharon is doing now and what he is talking about is nothing but a waste of time," Abu Rdeneh said. "We were informed by the quartet, and by the US administration in particular, that there will be no changes in the road map."
Sharon said Israel's main concerns with the plan related to security. Israel wants implementation to be sequential, meaning that the obligations of each step must be fulfilled before the sides move on to the next step.
The Palestinians, fearful of Israeli stalling, want the sides to adhere to a strict timetable.
Sharon refused to give details of whether he was planning to evacuate specific Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, but reiterated that he was ready to make "painful" concessions.
"We are talking about the cradle of Jewish civilisation. Our whole history is bound up with these places, Bethlehem, Shiloh and Beit El," he said, referring to the reoccupied Palestinian selfrule town south of Jerusalem and two West Bank settlements.
"And I know we will have to part with some of these places. There will be a parting from places that are connected to the whole course of our history.
"As a Jew, this agonises me. But I have decided to make every effort to reach a (peace) agreement," Sharon said.
Settler spokesman Yoshua Mor-Yosef said Sharon's comments were a betrayal of the movement that he himself had nurtured for decades.
Sharon reiterated that Palestinian statehood was inevitable.
"I do not think we have to rule over another people and run their lives. I do not think that we have the strength for that," Sharon said, saying that Israel's recent reoccupation of Palestinian towns and cities in the West Bank was temporary. "It is not a situation that can persist." Sapa-AFP
How can we manifest peace on earth if we do not include everyone (all races, all nations, all religions, both sexes) in our vision of Peace?
The WorldPeace Banner
Show your desire for Peace and WorldPeace by wearing something
endorsing WorldPeace. Make your own pin or badge but remember, WorldPeace
is one word. Send me your WorldPeace pin designs and I will display
To the WorldPeace Peace Page