PM, IDF clash over unilateral moves, gestures to Qureia

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 08-Dec-03 | Author: Aluf Benn| Source: Ha'aretz

A dispute has flared between Israel Defense Forces officers and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in recent days regarding the stance Israel should adopt toward the new Palestinian Authority government headed by Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala).

Sharon and the IDF officers also disagree about the correctness of taking "unilateral steps" in dealings with the Palestinians.

Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Moshe Ya'alon has expressed reservations in private talks about proposals to unilaterally evacuate the Netzarim settlement in the Gaza
Strip. Ya'alon has reiterated his position holding that unilateral dismantling of settlements would confer "support to terror." Ya'alon will support the evacuation of settlements only if it is done as part of a comprehensive arrangement with the Palestinians.

As the IDF chief of staff sees it, Israel should seek a "quiet, internal power-shift" in the PA, which would be led by figures who have been associates of PA Chairman Yasser Arafat. Israel, Ya'alon believes, should carefully
encourage the formation of an alternative Palestinian leadership.

The IDF wants to give the Qureia government a chance and its top officers have proposed that troops withdraw from West Bank cities and that roadblocks be removed, to relieve humanitarian distress in the territories.

As Ya'alon sees it, the IDF should first pull out of quiet cities, as a way of rewarding them. Opposing this set of views, officials in the Prime Minister's Office and also in the security establishment believe there is little
chance Qureia's government will implement the road map.

Israel's official position is that it wants the road map to succeed, and will try to be more forthcoming toward Qureia than it was toward the previous government headed by Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen).

In parallel, however, Sharon is devising his plan for unilateral steps; he is acting on the assumption that Qureia does not really want to move ahead with the road map, and instead wants to increase international pressure on Israel so that the road map is replaced by a peace
initiative more palatable to the Palestinians.

Sharon has formulated a two-staged plan: At first, Israel will dismantle outposts and offer various goodwill gestures to the PA, as steps toward the implementation of the road map. Should progress be made, Israel would consider limited evacuation of settlements before a
final status agreement is worked out.

But Sharon is assuming this sequence will not materialize. After the plan's expected collapse, he would seek U.S. approval for a unilateral solution in which Israel would
accelerate work on the separation fence, evacuate isolated settlements and move their residents to settlement clusters, and demarcate a unilateral border which would leave the Palestinians less than half of the West Bank.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz opposes the unilateral evacuation of settlements. Yet under a general arrangement by which borders are set out in accord with security needs, Mofaz could support changes in the settlements, including apparently the removal of Jewish residents.

Mofaz believes Israel must identify its interests and, if it needs to, compromise about certain regions - but no concessions should be made under pressure or because of terror, the defense minister believes.