Under pressure to end three years of fighting, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Israel cannot hold on to all of the West Bank and Gaza, but also warned Palestinians that unless they moderate their demands he might take permanent hold of some of the land they seek for a state.
"You do not have unlimited time," he told a news conference, addressing the Palestinians. "There is a limit to our patience."
Sharon's talk about possible concessions on Thursday was aimed at an increasingly impatient gallery of critics, ranging from US officials to bickering coalition partners to ordinary Israelis despondent over the decline of their living standards and personal security.
The Palestinians responded with a sharp rebuke.
"This is an unprecedented, arrogant statement. It is rude and it lacks any vision," said Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath. "He should declare that he is committed to the `road map' and implement all the Israeli commitments that are in this map."
Sharon said he remained committed to the US-backed plan, which both sides accepted in principle in June, although Israel attached more than a dozen reservations. The plan calls for a Palestinian state by 2005.
But Sharon made clear that he will not fully abide by a road map requirement that Israel dismantle the scores of West Bank settlement outposts, many of them no more than a few trailer homes, which were established in recent years. He said some outposts have "supreme security value" and that "what is necessary will remain" -- a statement Palestinians blasted as a blatant violation of the plan.
Sharon has also ignored the road map's call for a freeze on construction in the 150 veteran Jewish settlements where some 220,000 settlers live; bids for hundreds of new homes have been published in recent months.
The Palestinians, for their part, have evaded the requirement that they dismantle militant groups that have killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings and shootings in the three years since peace talks collapsed.
At the time, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was proposing a Palestinian state in all of Gaza and almost all of the West Bank, with a foothold in Jerusalem. Although Sharon has never spelled out his proposals, the route of the barrier, and private comments by officials, suggest he is aiming for a state on far less land than the Palestinians seek, with no concession in Jerusalem.
New Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia's goal appears to be ending the violence and then putting pressure on Sharon to come up with a concrete proposal. The road map does not spell out details such as the exact borders of a Palestinian state.
Palestinian militant groups are meeting in Cairo for truce talks next week, and there are expectations they might announce readiness to halt attacks.
On Thursday, Qureia said senior Israeli and Palestinian officials will meet next week to prepare for a summit between him and Sharon, presumably after the Cairo talks. Qureia has been balking at such a meeting, asking for assurances that it would yield results. Sharon has refused to discuss preconditions.
The Palestinians are also demanding Israel stop building its security barrier, a system of fences, walls and trenches which is planned to stretch along a snaking path of some 580km, digging deep into the West Bank in several areas to incorporate large Jewish settlements into the "Israeli" side.