Sharon initiative hints at settlement evacuation

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 25-Nov-03 | Author: Aluf Benn| Source: Ha'aretz

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is planning changes to the Israeli deployment in the territories, and has hinted that this will include the evacuation of settlements.

Sharon is to soon present his plans for "unilateral steps" to the public. The plan seeks to ease daily life in Israel, without compromising security.

The measures are also expected to ease the daily life of the Palestinians, though these steps will be in Israel's interests and will not be dependent upon Palestinian

A senior source yesterday refused to give details on the "unilateral steps" Sharon spoke of at an exporters' conference on Thursday. When asked if the steps would be connected to the painful compromises the prime minister spoke of when he took office, the source would only say "it could be that there will also be such steps."

The source did say that the unilateral steps are not connected to the establishment of a Palestinian state, which can only be established by following through on the
U.S.-backed road map for Middle East peace. Sharon is prepared to recognize a Palestinian state within temporary borders, but only once terror has stopped, all terror organizations have been disbanded and sweeping reforms implemented in the Palestinian Authority's leadership.

Sharon was due to convene this morning his "forum of five," which includes ministers Ehud Olmert, Silvan Shalom, Shaul Mofaz and Yosef Lapid. The full cabinet will then convene for its weekly meeting, where ministers will hear from Shin Bet security force chief Avi Dichter. The ministers are also expected to ask Sharon for more details on his intended steps.

The plan currently being put together by Sharon includes three parallel routes:

Negotiations with the Palestinians over the implementation of the road map, which will lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Sharon is due to meet soon with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia. This will be preceded by a meeting between Sharon's chief of staff, Dov Weisglass, and senior Palestinian officials. Talks to coordinate these meetings are due to begin today.

In talks held before his visit to Italy last week, the defense establishment presented Sharon with proposed Israeli gestures toward Qureia. According to the proposal, if Qureia declares that he intends to take security measures against terror, as part of "taking control in the territories," Israel will respond by reducing the number of roadblocks, opening up roads to Palestinian traffic and transferring additional West Bank cities and towns to Palestinian security control, according to the "Gaza and Bethlehem first" model implemented over the summer.

At the current stage, the release of security prisoners as one possible gesture to the Palestinian Authority has not been suggested and some in Israel believe Qureia will also not request this, as such a step is identified with his predecessor Mahmoud Abbas.

The U.S. administration has called on Israel in recent days to make good on its promises to evacuate unmanned outposts in the West Bank and freeze settlement building, and Sharon has said he is prepared to do. U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer is continuing talks with the Defense Ministry to compile a list of the 91 existing outposts in the West Bank.

Unilateral steps and redeployment in the territories. Sharon is expected to lay out these measures to the public soon. The steps will be brought before the cabinet for
approval. Sharon believes he will get the support he needs, despite the expected opposition from the right wing. Determined not to abandon his coalition partnership with the right, the prime minister will spend the coming weeks convincing the public and the politicians of the necessity of such measures.

Sharon is also considering postponing a planned state visit to Germany. The prime minister is to leave in two weeks, but due to his numerous overseas visits recently, he is considering delaying the trip. One of the biggest factors in going, however, is the importance he puts on European visits and talks with leaders there.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom will attend two key conferences in Europe next week: a meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in the Netherlands and a meeting of the "Barcelona process" for European-Mediterranean cooperation in Napoli.

A number of foreign ministers from Arab states are expected at the Napoli conference, including Syrian and Lebanese delegates.

The Mongolian foreign minister, Luvsangiin Erdenechuluun, is due in Israel today and will meet both Sharon and Shalom.