Territory must be given up for peace plan, Sharon says

Some illegal settlements will remain, he says

November 28, 2003|By Joel Greenberg | Joel Greenberg,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

JERUSALEM - Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said yesterday that Israel will have to make territorial concessions to achieve peace with the Palestinians, and that he could make no promises regarding the future of any Jewish settlement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Sharon said some unauthorized outposts built by Jewish settlers will remain, contrary to a requirement in the American-backed "road map" to peace, and that work on a security barrier in the West Bank will be accelerated.

At a news conference in Tel Aviv, Sharon again raised the possibility that he might take "unilateral steps" if attempts to negotiate with the Palestinians fail. Israeli media reported this week that those steps could include removing isolated settlements and setting a boundary along the route of the barrier, which slices into the West Bank.

Sharon said he is forming his plan and will present it later, but he seemed to be preparing the public for the possibility of the eventual withdrawal from some areas.

"I spoke in the past about painful concessions," Sharon said. "It is clear that in the future we will not be in all the places we are now."

Asked whether he could assure residents of Netzarim, an isolated settlement in the Gaza Strip, that it will not be removed, Sharon said he would make no such promises. A heavily guarded enclave of about 60 families, Netzarim has been mentioned in news reports as one of the settlements that could be evacuated.

"I don't intend to give any commitment to anyone regarding this or that place," Sharon said. "I will not make any commitment now regarding this or that community."

For years, Sharon was the architect of the Israeli settlement drive in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where about 220,000 settlers live in nearly 150 communities.

The first phase of the peace plan requires Israel to freeze building in settlements and dismantle dozens of illegal outposts set up by settlers on West Bank hills since March 2001.

Sharon said some outposts that have "prime security importance" will remain but that others established "to provoke the government" will be removed. A third category could be removed if Palestinian violence subsides, Sharon said.

"What's legal is legal, and what's illegal is illegal, and the illegal ones will be removed," Sharon said.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz held talks yesterday about dismantling some outposts, Israel radio reported.

Peace Now, an Israeli group that opposes the settlements, said that of 60 outposts in the West Bank, the government has removed eight since the road map was formally unveiled in the summer. Sharon said the army had blocked or dismantled 43 illegal outposts.

Deputy Defense Minister Zeev Boim said earlier yesterday that the government was in the final stages of legalizing some of the unauthorized outposts. He told Army Radio that Israel would also allow building for "natural growth" in established settlements, despite the peace plan requirement that Israeli freeze all settlement activity.

Sharon said work would also continue on the barrier Israel is building in the West Bank.

"Today we are accelerating the fence, and we will not stop because it is vital for the country's security," he said.

Israel says the barrier is needed to block infiltration by suicide bombers and other attackers. Palestinians assert that the barrier, which winds into the West Bank to protect Jewish settlements, is an attempt to carve off land from a future state.

"There is no viable Palestinian state if Israel continues to build the wall," Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said after Sharon's remarks.

Sharon also warned the Palestinians that time is running out for them to reach a negotiated settlement.

"It is possible I'll be convinced that there is no point in waiting for another Palestinian government, and then another, but rather to take unilateral steps," Sharon said, without elaborating.

Sharon has come under pressure in recent weeks to break the impasse with the Palestinians. The Israeli army chief of staff has criticized restrictions imposed on ordinary Palestinians as counterproductive, four former security chiefs warned that Israel was heading for disaster if it did not pursue a political solution to the conflict, and a group of Israeli and Palestinian politicians negotiated an unofficial peace accord that will be formally signed in Geneva next week.

Sharon accused the security chiefs of making political arguments, and he called the model peace accord an attempt to undermine the peace plan.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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