Prime Minister Ariel Sharon drew fire from Israel’s main U.S. ally and all sides in the Middle East on Friday 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 United States, Palestinians and Israeli doves condemned the threat of breaking with the U.S.-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.
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 would oppose any unilateral steps that block the road toward negotiations under the road map,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. “The United States believes that a settlement must be negotiated and we would oppose any effort — any Israeli effort — to impose a settlement.”
Sharon repeats warning
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 on Friday.
He said that whatever the case, work would be speeded on the huge barrier that Israel is building through the West Bank and says it needs 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 on Friday, 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.
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.
“Unilateral actions do not end the occupation and they do not end resistance until full rights are extracted,” said a senior official of the Islamic Jihad group in the Gaza Strip.