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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

May 14, 2003

Sharon Sets Hard Line on Settlements Policy

Reg req'd (free) for NY Times piece that suggests that if the Israelis complain the Palastinians are not doing anything to halt terrorism and thus the peace plan (aka The Road) is stalled, so too now, the arabs can counter that Sharon will not meet opening conditions of the Road plan, a halt to new settlements.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has dismissed the idea of restraining Israeli settlements as not "on the horizon," taking a hard line against a goal of a new American-backed peace plan in remarks published today.

Speaking a week before a planned meeting with President Bush in Washington, Mr. Sharon also rejected suggestions that the Bush administration was pressing him to restrain settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Asked about dismantling settlements or outposts, Mr. Sharon told The Jerusalem Post, "It is not something today that anyone is dealing with."

"There is no pressure from anyone," he added. "It is only pressure from the Jews on themselves."

During a visit over the weekend, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said that he had raised the issue of settlements with Mr. Sharon, and that Mr. Bush would pursue the matter when he sees Mr. Sharon on Tuesday.

Mr. Powell said he had discussed settlements with Mr. Sharon as "a problem." Mr. Powell told Israeli television that President Bush would speak to the prime minister "in very open, straightforward, honest, candid terms about settlement activity."

But Mr. Sharon suggested in the interview, only excerpts of which were published, that there was nothing new to the American concerns. He noted that no American administration had ever supported settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, which Israel occupied in the 1967 War, but that every Israeli government built them anyway.

"In my mind this is not an issue on the horizon right now," he was quoted as saying.

The new peace plan, known as the road map, calls for Israel to dismantle settlement outposts built since March 2001 at the same time that the Palestinian Authority cracks down on terrorism. It also calls for Israel to freeze "all settlement activity." Mr. Sharon says the Palestinians must end incitement and dismantle all terrorist organizations before Israel can make concessions.

Mr. Sharon has repeatedly said he will make "painful concessions" for peace, adding that he cannot reveal them because they will then become the starting point, rather than the ending point, for negotiations. But what concessions he has in mind — indeed, even if he knows — remains a central mystery of the new peace efforts.

An adviser to Mr. Sharon played down his published remarks as domestic politics, saying the prime minister was trying to shore up support on the right. The adviser noted that a rival of Mr. Sharon, his finance minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had recently given a hard-edged interview to the same newspaper.[more]