Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s pro-settler party will likely agree to uproot some Jewish settlements as part of a go-it-alone peace scheme opposed by Washington, a key Israeli lawmaker said on Wednesday.
Palestinians fear Sharon’s ideas -- put forward as a unilateral alternative if a U.S.-backed “road map” fails --would leave them a shrunken, chopped-up state inside a barrier of wire and concrete that has been internationally condemned.
Sharon’s right-wing Likud party, traditionally vehement in its support of settlers, would be vital for pushing through any scheme. For decades Sharon, a general-turned-politician, has been a leading champion of the settlers.
Yuval Shteinitz, the hawkish head of parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said Sharon had outlined a "long-term redeployment" as an alternative to a peace deal and it was accepted by most Likud lawmakers.
“What Sharon suggests is not concessions but steps that will allow us to defend ourselves better,” Shteinitz told Reuters. “I advise the Palestinians that it’s better for them to go for a peace agreement.”
The mass-circulation Maariv daily said the “Sharon plan” would mean evacuating five smallish settlements by next summer.
A Tel Aviv university poll on Wednesday showed about 60 percent of Israelis favored evacuating all settlements in the Gaza Strip and isolated settlements in the West Bank.
Opposed by United States
U.S. officials said any summary move to impose a peace arrangement would not work. “We don’t consider that to be a viable solution...that would add to the security and safety of Israel,” one official told reporters.
Signals that Israel is getting ready to impose its own arrangement have increased pressure on the Palestinians at a time of renewed interest in the road map, thanks to a spell of relative calm and a new Palestinian government.
Officials close to Sharon say his ideas are more than just a negotiating ploy ahead of a possible revival of talks on the U.S.-backed plan, which is meant to end a three-year-old uprising and lead to a Palestinian state by 2005.
Vice Premier Ehud Olmert also told Israel Radio on Wednesday that he doubted it was possible to reach a peace agreement.
But a senior official of the Islamic Jihad militant group, which unlike the Palestinian Authority is sworn to Israel’s destruction, said unilateral Israeli moves could not bring peace.
“Sharon’s plans must motivate all Palestinians to unite in order to challenge his aggressive intentions,” Nafez Azzam told Reuters in Gaza.
Speaking after unusually high-level talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Geneva, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Israel remained committed to the road map.
He said direct talks with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia's government could start “in the coming days” if it dropped preconditions.
Qureia has said he will not meet Sharon unless Israel stops building a huge barrier through the West Bank. Israel says it is needed to stop suicide bombers who have killed 450 of its citizens. Palestinians call it an attempt to annex occupied land.
“We want to have the meeting with Abu Ala (Qureia). This still has to be prepared in a proper and good manner in order that it succeeds,” Shalom told Israel Radio.