Sat, Dec 20, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Sharon's plans under heavy fire

GOING IT ALONE A pledge by the Israeli prime minister to unilaterally resolve the long-running conflict worries the US, the Palestinians and the Israeli settlers

REUTERS , JERUSALEM

Covered with flags of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the bodies of Saadai Hanani, 25, bottom, and Jibril Awad, 24, are carried for burial in the West Bank town of Nablus on Thursday. The two and a gunman of the Islamic group Hamas were killed earlier by Israeli troops conducting an operation in the Old City of Nablus.

PHOTO: AP

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon drew fire from Israel's main US ally and all sides in the Middle East yesterday for a pledge to sever Israelis from Palestinians within months if peace talks fail.

The plan would deny Palestinians land they want for a state and keep them behind a controversial barrier through the West Bank, but also involve shifting Jewish settlers away from Palestinian population centers to shorten security lines.

The US, Palestinians and Israeli doves condemned the threat of breaking with the US-backed "road map" for reciprocal measures leading to a Palestinian state by 2005.

The pro-settler right attacked talk of uprooting settlers, exploding the decades-old commitment of Sharon's Likud party to holding onto territory seized in the 1967 war.

Israel Radio reported that Sharon would visit Washington next month to present his "Disengagement Plan" to US President George W. Bush, though the prime minister's officials said no trip to the US had been scheduled yet.

The White House had condemned Sharon's warning that Israel was ready to go-it-alone in a major policy speech on Thursday and urged him to meet Palestinian counterpart Ahmed Qureia for talks on reviving the road map.

"We don't think it's best at this point to be discussing now what to do if progress is not made because we're staying focused working with the parties to achieve progress on the road map," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

Sharon gave no precise timetable for the separation moves, but said the Palestinians had to quickly "uproot terrorist groups" if they did not want Israel to impose a solution and wind up with less land than they could through negotiations.

"There should be no doubt that this plan will be implemented within a few months if it is made clear within a short time that the Palestinians are not ready to return to negotiations and work in accordance with the road map," Sharon told the Israeli Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper yesterday.

He said that whatever the case, work would be speeded on the huge barrier that Israel is building through the West Bank to keep out suicide bombers. Palestinians call the obstacle of wire and concrete an attempt to annex land.

Israeli opposition leader Shimon Peres blasted Sharon's plan yesterday, suggesting that he had made the road map impossible.

At the other end of the political spectrum, the head of the YESHA council representing Jewish settlers called Sharon's plan "the destruction of Zionism" and said his coalition would face problems the moment it tried to remove settlements.

"I think he will be without a government and I think his plans will not be able to be carried out in the end," Benzi Lieberman told Army Radio.

Qureia, a moderate, said on Thursday he was disappointed with the Sharon's "threat" and urged negotiations. A meeting between the two has been in the pipeline for weeks.

Islamic factions sworn to Israel's destruction and at the forefront of a suicide bombing campaign said they could see nothing new in Sharon's speech or any suggestion that it would bring peace.

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