Sharon dismisses Quartet peace plan

Published: Monday, January 20, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 19, 2003 at 10:03 p.m.
JERUSALEM - Prime Minister Ariel Sharon staked out a hard-line position Sunday - a week ahead of elections - and said Europe was too biased against Israel to be a Mideast mediator. A top aide said the prime minister did not consider a U.S.-backed plan for Palestinian statehood to be realistic.
Sharon has repeatedly promised to seek peace and make "painful concessions" if re-elected on Jan. 28, but opponents said his latest positions show he has no vision for ending the 28 months of deadly violence.
The emerging plan, known as the "road map," was formulated in recent weeks by the so-called Quartet of mediators - the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia.
It does not explicitly call for a change in the Palestinian leadership, as President Bush did in a speech last June in which he outlined a vision for a Palestinian state by 2005. However, the United States has not distanced itself from the road map, and it is to be formally adopted next month.
At a news conference, Sharon did not directly address the "road map," saying only that he sees "eye-to-eye" with the United States.
"To the European side I said, 'Your attitude towards Israel and the Arabs and the Palestinians should be balanced,"' Sharon said. "'When it will be balanced you are mostly welcome to participate.' But at this moment the relations are unbalanced . . . They (the Europeans) don't understand that in order to move things forward (Yasser) Arafat should be removed from any influential position."
The latest draft of the "road map" calls for an eventual freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip - something Sharon will find very difficult to do if, as expected, he emerges as the leader of a narrow right-wing government after the election.
When asked about the "road map" in a weekend interview with Newsweek, Sharon was quoted as saying: "Oh, the Quartet is nothing! Don't take it seriously! There is (another) plan that will work."
He said that if Arafat were removed and Palestinian militants crushed, Israel would recognize a provisional, demilitarized Palestinian state with temporary borders, and after prolonged calm, enter negotiations on a final peace deal.
Sharon adviser Raanan Gissin said Sharon believed the Quartet's plan is "not realistic ... There is nothing in that program that can be implemented."
European diplomats declined to comment on Sharon's remarks.
At a campaign rally Sunday, Sharon said he would not relinquish control of a hotly disputed holy site in Hebron, the Tomb of the Patriarchs, in a peace deal with the Palestinians.
Sharon said some party leaders - a clear reference to his main opponent, dovish Amram Mitzna of Labor - are prepared to pull out of Hebron as part of a peace deal.
Sharon rejected that, telling about 1,500 Likud Party activists, "We will have to make concessions, but there are some things we just can't give up."
The draft of the "road map" calls for a cease-fire and an Israeli pullback from Palestinian towns, then allows for a provisional Palestinian state in parts of the West Bank and Gaza. In a third phase the sides would negotiate the future of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and borders.
Although it does not explicitly call for Arafat's removal it does make statehood conditional on "a (Palestinian) leadership acting decisively against terror and able to build a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty."
The document also calls for a freeze on Jewish settlements in the areas.
Palestinian officials said they accept the plan in principle, but with some reservations.
And Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat accused Sharon of sabotaging efforts to revive peace talks, saying "his real intention is to ... make it impossible for any future negotiators to discuss peace."
Mitzna, the underdog in next week's race, said the latest Sharon statements reveal "his true face (which) is 'no' to peace, 'no' to territorial compromise, and 'no' to agreement with the Palestinians."
Mitzna said in a phone interview that if he were prime minister he would "go much quicker and more substantially forward" than what the road map requires of Israel, "because I believe that separation from the Palestinians, which will lead to separation from terrorism, is tremendously important."
Mitzna says Israel's own interest dictates a pullout from most of the West Bank and Gaza - territories it occupied in the 1967 war, where some 3 million Palestinians live. He would resume peace talks with Arafat and, if no deal is reached within a year, pull out of most of the areas unilaterally.
Even though Mitzna's positions are fairly popular, polls show Likud will outpoll Labor and, together with nationalist and religious parties, should be able to form a narrow majority in parliament.
U.S. Embassy officials in Tel Aviv would not address the issue.
But the Washington Post quoted U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz as saying U.S. pressure to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would increase after a possible war on Iraq. "Our stake in pushing for a Palestinian state will grow," The Washington Post quoted Wolfowitz as saying.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top