Jewish World Review Dec. 5, 2002 / 30 Kislev, 5763

Sharon agrees to Palestinian state

By Joshua Brilliant | (UPI) HERZLIYA, Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon Wednesday accepted in principle the U.S. roadmap for Israeli-Palestinian peace that envisages the creation of an independent Palestinian state within a few years.

Sharon, who has been vague on his ideas for peace with the Palestinians, Wednesday dwelt at length on the understandings he said he has reached in seven trips to Washington over the past year and a half.

One of his listeners, the director of the American Jewish Committee's Israel/Middle East Office, Eran Lerman, told United Press International it was the first time Sharon spoke so explicitly about the creation of a Palestinian state, undertook to withdraw from areas Israel seized since the intifada erupted on Sept. 28, 2000, and to pull back from additional West Bank areas. The additional pullback should create territorial contiguity among the many patches of autonomous Palestinian areas.

In an address to the closing session of the Third Herzliya Conference on The Balance of Israel's National Security, Sharon stressed the process must begin with "a complete cessation of terror."

The American plan provides that, "only once a specific phase has been implemented, will progress into the next phase be possible," he reported. Thus there is no timetable, but a list of moves that must be completed.

The sides will advance with U.S. President George Bush's sequence "when a new, different, responsible and non-corrupt Palestinian leadership emerges," Sharon said. " Terror will cease, and the Palestinian leadership will not allow it to be renewed. Civil and economic cooperation will be established. Incitement will be stopped and education towards peace will be fostered," he continued.

For its part, "Israel will act to lift military pressure, create territorial continuity between Palestinian population centers, and ease daily life for the Palestinian population," he reported. Leaving the prepared text he said there would be territorial continuity within the West Bank autonomous zones, not across sovereign Israeli territory to link the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The next phase of President Bush's sequence provides, "Israel will enable the establishment of a Palestinian state with borders that are not final," Sharon reported. They are to cover areas that were under full, or partial Palestinian rule before the intifada erupted. That accounts for 42 percent of the West Bank.

"Israel will not re-control territories from which it withdrew as a result of (earlier) political agreements," Sharon promised alluding to the areas it seized since September 2000.

"This Palestinian state will be completely demilitarized. It will be allowed to maintain lightly armed police and interior forces to ensure civil order. Israel will continue to control all entries and exits to the Palestinian state, will command its airspace, and not allow it to form alliances with Israel's enemies," Sharon said.

The Palestinian state's permanent borders will be set in the final phase of the negotiations.

Parallel with -- or even before -- undertaking governmental reforms the Palestinians must reform security, Sharon stressed.

These reforms entail "Dismantling all existing security /terrorist bodies, the majority of which are, in fact, involved in terror; these organizations, which are directly subordinate to (Palestinian leader Yasser) Arafat, are essentially corrupt, and responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Israelis," he said.

Two or three new organizations should emerge consisting a police force and security services. "These new organizations will have a uniform command, which will be responsible for dismantling the current complex web of militias and armed gangs," he added.

The Palestinian Interior Minister "will be responsible for collecting illegal weapons and transferring them to a third party which will remove...and destroy them, and outlaw terrorist organizations," he said.

Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation should be "renewed immediately," he stressed.

The governmental reforms should ultimately lead to, "The establishment of a new, honest and peace-seeking administration, the removal of Arafat from his command of power and sources of financing, and from the decision-making process, and his relegation to a symbolic role," Sharon said.

A "sort-of Prime Minister" should head of the executive authority, "administer a more efficient governmental system, fight the prevailing corruption in the Palestinian Authority and adhere to regulations of proper management," he added.

Elections should be held only after the reforms are concluded, not at the outset as the Palestinian have been planning, he maintained.

Former U.S. Mideast Coordinator, Dennis Ross, Tuesday told the conference that every single point on the road map is subject to interpretation. The Palestinians, the Israelis, and the Europeans will interpret it in different ways.

This became apparent when comparing Sharon's remarks to an unofficial text of the roadmap that the Palestinian newspaper, Al Ayyam, published on November 20.

According to the Al Ayyam account, the Palestinian leadership should start with "a clear statement" that reaffirms Israel's right to live in peace and "calls" for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.

Sharon wanted more than calls and declarations. "No progress will be made from one phase to the next until such time as quiet is proven to have been restored," he said.

At the Herzliya conference the prime minister stressed that all the points he mentioned were "discussed and concluded" in prolonged U.S.-Israeli talks that lasted more than a year.

The text Al Ayyam report said Israel would immediately dismantle "all settlement enclaves that were erected since March 2001," but Sharon did not mention the settlements at all.

Sharon heads a fairly hawkish Likud Party -- and at one time argued Jordan should be the Palestinian state. He thus seems to have gone a long way.

"I cannot deny that I have doubts, reservations and fears," he told the conference. "However, I have come to the conclusion that in the present regional and international reality Israel must act with courage to accept the political plan which I described. There are many risks, but also enormous opportunities," he argued.

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