Sharon Mideast Peace Plan Dismissed
JERUSALEM (AP) _ The front-runner in the race for Israel’s prime minister will not give more land to the Palestinians and aims for an agreement that keeps all Jewish settlements in place, according to his peace plan, published in detail for the first time Thursday.
Opposition leader Ariel Sharon’s ideas were immediately dismissed by the Palestinians and Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Sharon’s proposals were a ``recipe for disaster, a recipe for war.″ Barak said Sharon would not bring peace, and that the Israeli public was aware of the need for painful compromise.
Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, meanwhile, said there was still a slight chance Israel and the Palestinians could reach a full peace treaty before Israel’s Feb. 6 election.
Ben-Ami met with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Cairo late Wednesday and said he had the impression that the Palestinians ``really wish to exhaust the possibilities of this process with us.″
Negotiations have been guided by President Clinton’s peace proposals, which call for a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip, 95 percent of the West Bank and Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem. In exchange for drastically scaling back demands for the return of nearly 4 million refugees to Israel, the Palestinians would win control over a key Jerusalem shrine that is revered by Muslims and Jews.
The sides disagree on some key points, and intensive negotiations this week have failed to produce a breakthrough. However, Palestinian negotiators have said that for the first time they felt the Israelis were fully engaged in the talks.
Sharon’s peace ideas were published Thursday by the Haaretz daily, and were confirmed by Sharon’s aide, Odelia Lazar-Carmon. The Haaretz story was the most detailed account yet of how Sharon plans to reach a peace agreement.
In recent weeks of campaigning, the candidate had been purposefully vague, evading questions such as whether he would uproot any of the dozens of Jewish settlements dotting the West Bank and Gaza.
Under the Sharon plan, Israel would aim for a long-term interim agreement with the Palestinians. Israel would not hand more land to the Palestinians, and all the settlements would remain in place.
The Palestinians would continue to rule the Palestinians cities in the West Bank and the Gaza and have partial control over the surrounding areas, as they do now. In the West Bank, the two categories would account for 42 percent of the land.
Sharon would not build new settlements in the West Bank, but, like Barak, he would continue to expand them, especially around Jerusalem.
Israel would retain control of the Jordan Valley, which is on the eastern edge of the West Bank and was traditionally regarded in Israel as vital for preventing invasion from the east. Israel would also retain control of the mountain ridge overlooking the valley and of the roads crossing the West Bank, as well as water sources.
The Israeli army would continue to protect access to Jewish settlements. However, tunnels would be built under road junctions to enable Palestinians to travel between the various Palestinian cities without encountering Israeli army checkpoints.
Sharon would offer the Palestinians economic cooperation and development projects, provided they cooperate with Israel in fighting terrorism.
Ben-Ami said he did not believe the Palestinians would agree to sign another interim agreement. Israel and the Palestinians concluded a number of partial deals, and a full treaty was to have been reached by May 1999.
``In my view, the age of the interim agreements ... is dead and has been proven wrong,″ Ben-Ami said.
Barak, meanwhile, used TV campaign commercials to explain why peace talks are continuing despite 15 weeks of Israeli-Palestinian violence. ``This subject torments me,″ he said. ``The more I think of it, the more I hate it.″ But he insisted that there is an opportunity to make peace that must not be wasted.
Barak also told voters that meeting Arafat is ``no great joy.″ The two leaders have strained relations and have not met for talks since an informal evening at Barak’s house in late September, a few days before the current round of unrest erupted.