Fri, Dec 17, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Israel endorses resumption of the `road map'

MORE TALK The `road map' to peace derailed in its first stage and Israel's leadership is now endorsing putting the plan back into action

AP , JERUSALEM

Israel offered peace talks to the Palestinians and Syria if they move against anti-Israel violence, Israel's foreign minister said, endorsing the US-backed "road map" peace plan again after a year of going it alone.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom's speech at an annual conference in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv, marked the first time an Israeli official actively endorsed the "road map" since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon put forward his plan to pull Israeli settlements out of the Gaza Strip and a small part of the West Bank.

Sharon called his plan "unilateral disengagement," refusing to coordinate it with the Palestinian administration led by Yasser Arafat, whom Israel shunned, charging that he was involved in terrorism.

`Softened Attitude'

After Arafat's death on Nov. 11, Israel has noticeably softened its attitude, hinting at coordination and cooperation after a Jan. 9 election to replace Arafat.

Shalom took that a step further on Wednesday.

He called for reconvening the summit held in June 2003 at the Jordanian resort of Aqaba, where US President George W. Bush launched the "road map," which leads through stages to the creation of a Palestinian state.

While insisting that the Palestinians must stop violence, Shalom also said that the initial requirements of the "road map" must be implemented simultaneously.

"They must do their part -- stopping terrorism, violence and incitement -- and in parallel we must do our part," he said.

"Israel must do its part by removing unauthorized (settlement) outposts and withdraw to the lines before Sept. 29, 2000," he said, referring to the beginning of the current round of violence, when Israel moved troops back into the West Bank, set up dozens of roadblocks and took control of Palestinian cities and towns.

The "road map" stalled over failure by either side to carry out the first stage. Israel dismantled some outposts in the West Bank but left dozens of others. Meanwhile the Palestinians tried unsuccessfully to stop violence through dialogue with the militants instead moving to "dismantle" their cells according to the "road map" formula.

Palestinians demand a state in all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip with east Jerusalem as its capital, along with the right of return of refugees from the war that followed Israel's 1948 creation to return to their homes with their descendants -- about 4 million people altogether.

Commitment

Shalom insisted that the Palestinians must renounce the refugee demand.

There must be a clear commitment by the Palestinians "that they are prepared to rehabilitate the refugee camps where they are today," he said, a position the Palestinians have rejected for decades.

Shalom said it made no sense to demand a state and also insist that millions of people had to live in "another diaspora" in a neighboring state.

Offering peace talks to the Palestinians if they stop violence, Shalom made a similar gesture to the Syrians.

He said recent peace overtures from Syrian President Bashar Assad "cannot be ignored."

Terrorism

However, he added, "As soon as Syria stops its support of terrorism, we must immediately go to the negotiating table," repeating the Israeli condition that Syria must close the Damascus command posts of radical Palestinian groups like Hamas.

Shalom also suggested a step-by-step process of confidence-building measures, followed by talks on security and then some of the "tough issues" like borders.

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