JERUSALEM - Ahead of a meeting next week with President Bush, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon set a hard line yesterday on retaining Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Sharon dismissed as not "on the horizon" any talk of changing Israel's settlement policy, and he dismissed suggestions that the Bush administration was pressing him to dismantle settlements.
During a visit here over the weekend, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said that he raised the issue of settlements with Sharon, and that Bush would pursue the matter when he sees Sharon on Tuesday.
A new peace plan backed by the United States, known as the "road map," calls on Israel to dismantle all settlement outposts built since March 2001 at the same time the Palestinian Authority cracks down on terrorism. It also calls for a freeze on Israeli settlements. Sharon insists that the Palestinians must end incitement and dismantle all terrorist organizations before Israel can begin to make concessions.
In the interview, parts of which were published yesterday in The Jerusalem Post, Sharon suggested that there was nothing new to the Americans' concerns. He noted that no U.S. administration supported settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which Israel occupied in the Six-Day 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.
Asked about dismantling settlements or outposts, he said, "It is not something today that anyone is dealing with." He added: "There is no pressure from anyone. It is only pressure from the Jews on themselves."
In another interview a month ago, Sharon took an unusual step in listing two settlements, Beit El and Shilo, as well as Palestinian-controlled Bethlehem, before saying: "I know that we will have to part with some of these places. As a Jew, this agonizes me."
But asked by The Jerusalem Post about Beit El, Sharon said, "Jews will live there." He ridiculed the notion of "Arab sovereignty" in Beit El or Shilo.
Sharon restated his support for a Palestinian state. "I think it is good for us and good for the Palestinians," he said. "I don't think we can continue to control another people."
But Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians' chief negotiator, said talk of peace was meaningless without action on settlements. "It's either settlements or peace," he said. "Both cannot go together."