No independent Palestine, Sharon insists
Bush says road map to peace will not be redrafted but Israel's defiant PM demands concessions
Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
Monday March 17, 2003
Israel is to press George Bush to eliminate all reference to an "independent" Palestinian state from the US "road map" to a political settlement, which he promised on Friday to release soon.
Ariel Sharon's government has drawn up a list of amendments it wants made. They include the replacement of independence by "certain attributes of sovereignty".
It is not immediately clear what these are, but Mr Sharon has said what they do not include.
Israel, he says, will retain control of the Palestinian state's external security, borders, airspace, and underground water resources, and will have a veto over treaties with other countries.
Its security forces would be limited to a lightly armed police force.
The Israelis argue that Mr Bush made no mention of an independent country in the speech last June which has provided the working basis for the road map setting out the steps to achieving a Palestinian state within three years.
"We have accepted the Bush vision of 24 June," a foreign ministry spokesman, Jonathon Peled, said. "It talks of a phased approach with interim borders and then negotiations on a final status to define a Palestinian state somehow. We're still in that framework."
The Israeli position was put together by a team headed by Dov Weisglass, the prime minister's chief aide, who flew to Washington last week for discussions with Condoleezza Rice , the US national security adviser, about the road map and the looming war with Iraq.
A Palestinian cabinet minister and negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said the US Middle East envoy, David Satterfield, had reassured him at the weekend that there would be no further amendments to the road map: only its implementation was open to discussion.
He said: "This is significant, because it means the United States won't support changes, even if those changes come from Israel."
But Israel says it will press its "amendments" once the road map is made public. Mr Sharon is apparently less concerned about the views of other members of the mediating quartet - Russia, the EU and UN - because Israel believes that only the US attitude now matters, particularly given the international rift over Iraq.
The Israelis had hoped to delay the map's release at least until after a war in Iraq.
But on Friday Mr Bush said he would release it once a Palestinian prime minister was in place.
The Palestinian parliament is due to vote today on the third and final reading of a bill to establish the post of prime minister. It will need Yasser Arafat's approval to become law.
It is not yet clear whether the prime minister will have the power and standing to wield "real authority", as the US has demanded.
But Tony Blair said at a news conferences in the Azores yesterday that the candidate for the job, the leading Palestinian moderate Mahmoud Abbas, widely known as Abu Mazen, would fit the bill.
"The appointment of Abu Mazen gives us the right partner to take this forward," he said.
Mr Sharon told the knesset last month that the road map was "a matter of controversy" in his coalition and that commitment to it - seen at the time as meaning commitment to an independent Palestinian state - had been dropped from the written agreement which drew far right, settler and secular parties into the government.
The Israelis say that the implementation of the road map will depend upon "the complete cessation of violence and terrorism, full disarmament of terrorist organisations, their capabilities and infrastructure, the complete collection of illegal weapons and the emergence of a new and different [Palestinian] leadership".
They are also opposed to the automatic presumption that the map will culminate in a Palestinian state, saying that independence should come only by agreement, which would in effect give them a veto.
In addition, Mr Sharon does not want to have to abide by international law and remove illegal Jewish settlements.
His team has proposed that the settlements should be allowed to go on expanding until there is "a continuous and comprehensive security calm". Even then the government wants "natural growth" to be allowed.
The Palestinians are pressing for the map's immediate implementation, but the Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants have dismissed Mr Bush's promise to release it as a "bribe" to enable the US to make war on Iraq.