Sharon vows to make 'painful concessions'
By Eric Silver in Jerusalem
[The Independent - 14 April 2003]:
Ariel Sharon vowed yesterday to make every effort to end the century-old conflict with the Arab states and the Palestinians in the wake of the war on Iraq.
The Israeli Prime Minister reiterated his readiness to recognise a Palestinian state and to make "painful concessions" in return for "real peace". But he hedged on whether he would evacuate Jewish settlements. That reluctance prompted the Palestinians and the Israeli left to question his sincerity.
The victory of Anglo-American forces in Iraq, Mr Sharon said in an interview with the Haaretz newspaper, had created an opportunity that did not exist before. "The Arab world in general and the Palestinians in particular have been shaken. There is therefore a chance to reach an agreement faster than people think." He added: "I am 75. I feel that my goal and my purpose are to bring this nation to peace and security. I think that this is something that I have to leave behind me."
The Palestinians have heard it all before. Yasser Arafat's spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, dismissed the interview as "not serious". Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian legislator, saw it as a familiar "verbal manipulation". But she added: "Even if it's a bluff, we should call his bluff."
Ms Ashrawi said the Israeli leader had made repeated references to "painful concessions". She told The Independent: "When he starts from his own ideological assumption that all Palestine is his, then returning any inch is going to be, in his mind set, a painful concession."
Galia Golan, of the Peace Now pressure group, was also sceptical. "It sounds great," she said, "but I don't believe a word of it."
Dr Golan, a retired professor of international relations, suggested Mr Sharon was addressing the Americans and the British, who have been pressing Israel to accept an international "road-map" for peace.
Mr Sharon's bureau chief, Dov Weisglass, flew to Washington at the weekend to present 15 Israeli amendments to the Bush administration, which has promised to publish the plan as soon as Mahmoud Abbas, the first Palestinian Prime Minister, presents his government.
"Even if the Americans refuse to accept the changes," Dr Golan said, "Sharon insists on total end of terror and total disarming before we move on to the next stage. It is very difficult for the Palestinians to take such steps without getting something in return."
Mr Sharon said the prospect of reaching an early agreement depended first and foremost on the Palestinian side. "It requires a different type of leadership – a battle against terrorism and a series of reforms. It requires the absolute cessation of [anti-Israeli] incitement and the dismantling of all terrorist organisations."
He welcomed Mr Abbas's appointment, saying: "He understands that it is impossible to vanquish Israel by means of terrorism." On the road-map, Mr Sharon said he would make no concessions that jeopardised Israel's security.
The interviewer also challenged Mr Sharon on whether he was sincere about making "painful concessions". Mr Sharon replied: "There will be a parting from places that are connected to the whole course of our history. As a Jew, this agonises me. But I have decided to make every effort to reach a settlement. The rational necessity to reach a settlement is overcoming my feelings."
WHAT THE PRIME MINISTER SAID
The following are extracts from an interview with Israel's Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, in 'Haaretz' newspaper
Q. The President of the United States will tell you, "Arik, I have removed an existential threat from Israel, I am fomenting a revolution throughout the region. Now the time has come for you to make your contribution."
A. There are some matters regarding which we will be ready to take far-reaching steps. We will be ready to carry out very painful steps. But there is one thing that I told President Bush a number of times – I made no concessions in the past, and I will make no concessions now, or ever make concessions in the future, with regard to anything that is related to the security of Israel ... We will be the ones who in the end decide what is dangerous for Israel and what is not dangerous for Israel."
Q. And what about Netzarim? [Isolated settlement in Gaza Strip]
A. I don't want to get into a discussion of any specific place now. This is a delicate subject and there is no need to talk a lot about it. But if it turns out that we have someone to talk to, that they understand that peace is neither terrorism nor subversion against Israel, then I would definitely say that we will have to take steps that are painful.
Q. Isn't the phrase "painful concessions" a hollow expression?
A. Definitely not. It comes from the depth of my soul. Look, we are talking about the cradle of the Jewish people. Our whole history is bound up with these places. Bethlehem, Shiloh, Beit El. And I know that we will have to part with some of these places ... As a Jew, this agonises me. But I ... feel that the rational necessity to reach a settlement is overcoming my feelings.
Q. Are you now prepared to consider the evacuation of isolated settlements?
A. If we reach a situation of true peace, real peace, peace for generations, we will have to make painful concessions.