Sharon scorns Oslo peace

Leading candidate for Israeli premier would start anew

`Oslo doesn't exist, period'

Land, settlements, Jerusalem would stay in Israel's hands

January 11, 2001|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - Ariel Sharon, the leading candidate for prime minister of Israel, says the 1993 Oslo agreement with the Palestinians "doesn't exist anymore," and that, if elected, he would negotiate "on a totally different basis."

Palestinians, he indicated, would get no more than what they have now, about 42 percent of the West Bank. Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip would be maintained for Israel's security. Jerusalem would remain wholly under Israeli sovereignty.

Sharon made these comments in an interview with an ultra-Orthodox journal to be published today and in a speech last night as his right-wing Likud Party opened its campaign for the Feb. 6 election.

The remarks came as hope faded for last-ditch administration efforts to broker a deal between Israel and the Palestinians before President Clinton leaves office Jan. 20. Clinton's effort to work out an agreement under the Oslo framework faltered yesterday when his special envoy, Dennis Ross, delayed a trip to the region that was intended to narrow gaps that had emerged in the form of Palestinian and Israeli "reservations" about the president's latest compromise proposal.

The reasons for the delay were not clear, although U.S. officials indicated that they first want to see a drop in the level of violence.

Sharon holds a double-digit lead in the polls in a race that has focused so far on incumbent Prime Minister Ehud Barak's failure to secure a peace accord with the Palestinians and on more than three months of violence in the West Bank and Gaza.

Sharon, 72, a former general and defense minister closely identified with Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and West Bank settlement-building from the 1970s on, has attempted to project a moderate image in the campaign, to pull centrist voters away from Barak.

His theme has been that only he can bring real peace, while guaranteeing vital interests that Barak would give away. Sharon, like Barak, has spoken of having to make "painful concessions."

But in the interview with the journal Kfar Habad, Sharon indicated that these concessions won't amount to much more than Israel has already turned over to the Palestinians.

"The Oslo agreement doesn't exist anymore, period," Sharon said. "The basis for the Oslo agreement was ... all differences of opinion will be solved around the negotiating table. The minute the violence began and Barak began conducting negotiations under fire meant that the Oslo agreement doesn't exist anymore."

The 1993 Oslo accords, reached under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995 by a Jewish extremist, have since formed the basis for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The agreement called for a phased Israeli withdrawal from West Bank and Gaza territory captured from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war, along with Palestinian self-rule.

The current impasse in the talks developed over difficult "final status issues" - the borders of a Palestinian state, the fate of Jewish settlements, a "right of return" for Palestinian refugees and sovereignty over Jerusalem - that must be settled before a permanent peace agreement can be reached.

Sharon indicated that no compromise is possible on sovereignty over East Jerusalem, which is largely populated by Palestinians, or over the plateau sacred to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, site of the city's most revered Muslim shrines, the Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

"Jerusalem doesn't belong to us - it belongs to the entire Jewish people," Sharon said. "The entire Jewish world has no right to forgo the Temple Mount and no right to give up Jerusalem, because that belongs to the entire Jewish people for generations."

He said that "all settlements are in security areas and security areas must be in Israel's hands. This includes the entire issue of the Jordan Valley, or in the broader sense it includes other security areas. There we built the settlements, and since we have to maintain security areas, all the settlements will remain. Period."

By "painful concessions," he said he meant that Israel would not re-enter "Nablus and Jericho and so forth," areas already handed over to the Palestinians. "With me, it's very painful, because all these places are cradles of the Jewish people, and I don't know another nation that gave up national historical assets unless it was beaten in a war. We were not beaten in a war."

He said, "Those areas in which most Palestinians live, we shall not live," or not control. He said these comprise 42 percent of the West Bank, close to the amount of land that Palestinians already control.

However, he said that even within those areas, Jews should be able to visit and pray "without interference" at sites important to Jews. He mentioned in particular Joseph's Tomb in Nablus, a shrine that was protected by Israeli forces until they withdrew under fire early in the current uprising.

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