[Ha'aretz - 6 Dec]
Left and right bash PM for two-state plan
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon came under fire from the right wing and was mocked for electioneering by the left, as he reiterated yesterday morning his plan to make the "Bush vision" for a two-state solution to the conflict the guiding platform for his new government, if he is reelected.
Speaking during the annual meeting between the prime minister and the Newspapers Editors Committee at Beit Sokolov in Tel Aviv, Sharon said that with the implementation of the plan proposed by President George W. Bush, Israel would create a contiguous area of territory in the West Bank allowing Palestinians to travel from Jenin to Hebron without passing through any Israeli roadblocks or checkpoints. This could be accomplished with a combination of tunnels and bridges, he said. He originally made the same offer to the Palestinians while he was foreign minister in Benjamin Netanyahu's government in 1999, he told the press conference.
An `election trap'
Labor MK Haim Ramon said Sharon was laying "an election trap" with the promise to form a unity government around the Bush vision. Labor Party Chairman Amram Mitzna, touring the Negev, said "Sharon's statement proves he's begun to understand in recent weeks that the people want separation from the Palestinians," which has been Mitzna's platform since he entered the race for prime minister. "But when he promises that's what he'll do in the next government, we can only ask where has he been in the last two years?"
Later in the evening, Mitzna said he would only join a unity government with Sharon if the prime minister "explicitly stated that he would remove settlements."
But Sharon refused to do so yesterday, reiterating his position that there would be "painful compromises" but that any mention now of concessions would only end up as a starting point for negotiations.
He said he would not offer the Palestinians the same as what his predecessor Ehud Barak offered. "This isn't about the historical matter, the cradle of our homeland," said Sharon. "It's very painful to me, but I understand the conditions in the region and the world, and know there are difficult things to do. We cannot accept the [Barak] plan, which was rejected [by the Palestinians] because it did not give Israel security it needs for its existence."
Right-wing politicians were harshly critical of Sharon's statements in support of the "Bush framework." In his most programmatic and detailed acceptance yet of Bush's June 24 "vision" for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Sharon told the third annual Herzliya Conference on National Security on Wednesday that if he is reelected, he will form a unity government based on Bush's framework.
MK Avigdor Lieberman's National Union party issued a statement saying its platform "is the only way to prevent a Palestinian state, by establishing Palestinian cantons under Israeli security control, to prevent terror and the threat to the existence to the state, while expelling Arafat and his gang."
MK Benny Elon, also of National Union, said "the only realistic plan" is to make Jordan the Palestinian state, and to move the refugees to Jordan.
National Religious Party leader Effi Eitam said the establishment of a Palestinian state poses an existential threat to Israel. He also expressed his opposition to Sharon's plan for a demilitarized state, except for a police force, which would be prohibited from forging treaties with enemies of Israel, and in which Israel would control borders and airspace. Even such a plan, claims Eitam, is "an admission of our failure and the victory of terrorism."
Herut MK Michael Kleiner said "only a fool will believe that Sharon does not intend to follow through on this disastrous plan, that he's winking when he says it, for election purposes. I want to remind everyone that in 1996 we said the same thing about Netanyahu, when he announced he supported the Oslo Accords, but then he signed the Wye River memorandum for Hebron. When politicians promise disasters, they keep their promise."
The Sharon plan, as originally outlined at the Herzliya conference, "allows the establishment of a Palestinian state with temporary borders." The temporary borders would include Areas A and B, representing 42 percent of the West Bank, "except for areas vital for security." That "temporary state" would only be possible, Sharon insists, after a complete and total cessation of terror, and comprehensive reforms in Palestinian security and administration - including the removal of the current leadership.
The Palestinians have rejected the Sharon speech as an attempt to confuse the Israeli electorate by accepting some ideas in the so-called Quartet road map to peace, without committing to a full withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza. "It's an appeal to the Israeli center," said Palestinian Minister Saeb Erekat. "He's trying to look as if he's making peace."
Responding to questions from the newspaper editors, Sharon reiterated his position that he would keep Shaul Mofaz as defense minister if he is reelected. But when asked about what he had in mind for Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the next government, Sharon became very vague. "Netanyahu is a talented man, and he will contribute greatly to the team we put forth in the coming elections. But I'm not handing out portfolios right now."
Summing up his term in office in the outgoing government, Sharon said what Israeli prime ministers often say - "relations with the U.S. have never been better," adding that he has also developed a good relation with Russia, and "there's even been an improvement in Europe."
Asked what happened to his election promises made before the last vote, Sharon said "I promised security and I will bring security. I promised peace and I will bring peace. I also promised to deal with all the other issues and I will. It is a long, complex, complicated, and difficult process."
According to Sharon, political concessions made in the past are "not retractable." Israel will not return to control those areas it withdrew from as part of political agreements. "The current reality, in which the IDF acts freely in the Palestinian cities, is a result of the security situation and is not a change in the political situation from two years ago." He said the third and last stage of the Bush plan would mean negotiations for the final status of the Palestinian state and its permanent borders. He emphasized, "We will not move from stage to stage until there is a proved state of quiet relations, a change in the Palestinian manner of government, and growing coexistence."
By Aluf Benn and Nadav Shragai