Sun, May 25, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Sharon aide confident `road map' will go ahead, despite politicians' objections


Several senior Israeli politicians, including a top figure in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's right-wing Likud party, said they opposed a US-backed peace plan Sharon will bring to his Cabinet soon, Israeli media reported yesterday. Nonetheless, a Sharon aide and his main coalition partner are confident the plan will win approval.

Also yesterday, Israeli troops killed a Palestinian man near the town of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip, and arrested several people, including two American volunteers, during a search for suspected Islamic militants, wit-nesses and the army said.

Sharon reluctantly accepted the so-called peace "road map" on Friday after Washington publicly assured him that the US would take into account a list of Israeli objections.

But the blueprint for Palestinian statehood by 2005 could easily hit new snags before the two sides even take the first step toward implementation.

The militants, who already have carried out six bombings this week, including one on Friday, might step up attacks and provoke harsh Israeli reprisals.

Two far-right factions in Sharon's coalition government -- the National Religious Party and the National Union, which together hold four of 23 Cabinet posts -- could bolt in protest.

Their departure, however, could then open the way for Sharon to rebuild his former partnership with the Labor party -- leaving him stronger than ever by increasing his majority in parliament.

National Religious Party leader Effie Eitam said Friday his party would vote against the road map, while Uri Stern, leader of the National Union, indicated that his would do the same, Israel Radio reported yesterday. The Cabinet is expected to meet today or tomorrow.

Hard-liners in Sharon's own Likud party also are skeptical. Uzi Landau, a Likud minister, said the map in its current form is a "recipe for terror," while senior Likud member and former Cabinet minister Gideon Saar yesterday called the road map "the most dangerous Middle East plan that was ever presented."

"When a government in Israel, certainly one headed by the Likud, accepts obligations included in this plan, this will be a precedent," Saar told Israel Radio. "We will inflict grave damage on ourselves if we accept this plan."

But Sharon adviser Raanan Gissin and Tommy Lapid, leader of the moderate Shinui party, Sharon's main coalition partner, said Friday they expected the Cabinet to approve the plan.

"It is possible that there will be argument, but in the end, it [the road map] will be accepted," Lapid said.

The George W. Bush administration sent seemingly conflicting messages Friday in order to break the diplomatic deadlock. Alongside the promise to Israel came a pledge to the Palestinians that there would be no changes in the road map.

Palestinian Cabinet Minister Ziad Abu Amr said the Palestinians had not voiced their misgivings when accepting the plan because they were eager to move forward.

"If the US administration assures Israel that it will take into account its reservations, the same treatment should be extended to the Palestinian side," he said, declining to elaborate.

Disputes with the Palestinians could resurface in the first stage of the plan, when the Palestinians are to rein in militants and Israel is to withdraw from Palestinian towns and freeze Jewish settlement construction.

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