There's another conspiracy afoot against the Palestinians. Their worst enemies are claiming to be their friends... Those doing the most to prevent a real and independent Palestinian State are picking up in public the call for a 'Palestinian State'. It's a political comedy act fitting for Saturday Night Live!
Sharon Sets Tough Terms for Palestinians
JERUSALEM (AP - 28 Feb) - Prime Minister Ariel Sharon laid out tough terms for negotiating with the Palestinians on Friday as his new government took office, putting him at odds with the United States over plans for Mideast peace.
Parliament's 66-48 vote of confidence in the coalition government - the second to be led by Sharon - came a day after President Bush called on Israel to work quickly toward creating a Palestinian state.
While the prime minister said his new team would work for peace in the Middle East, he said it would require a Cabinet vote before even considering a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Palestinian officials said that stance left little hope for an end to 29 months of fighting that has claimed nearly 3,000 lives. ``It is a government that is going to abandon peace,'' said Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat. ``Sharon has nothing to talk about.''
In Washington, Bush said moves toward peace must include a halt in Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But at least 14 of Sharon's 24 ministers can be expected to oppose the idea of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and at least two ministers come from a party that actively champions the interests of settlers in the West Bank.
Bush also said a successful outcome of the Iraq crisis would mark the beginning of a push toward solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. His main points were an end to violence, a halt of settlement construction and a viable Palestinian state.
Sharon and Bush agree that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat must be sidelined and that Palestinian attacks must be halted. If Bush's post-Iraq foreign policy includes a concerted effort to push Israel and the Palestinians toward an agreement, Sharon will have difficulties pushing a Palestinian state of any kind through his new Cabinet.
Sharon's opponents claim his acceptance of even a scaled-back Palestinian state under Israeli control is no more than lip service aimed at pleasing the United States, and that his heavily right wing Cabinet reflects his real views.
``Israel is the party that is avoiding and refusing the resumption of peace negotiations, and insisting on achieving its objectives by force,'' said Palestinian Labor Minister Ghassan Khatib.
The new coalition - between Sharon's Likud and a bloc of smaller parties - controls 68 of the 120 seats in the parliament, a comfortable majority. Twenty ministers were sworn in early Friday after the vote of confidence and an eight-hour parliamentary debate. Three other ministers are to take office next week.
Likud, with 40 seats in the 120-member parliament, dominates the new Cabinet, taking 14 portfolios, including the most important: foreign affairs, defense, finance and the premiership.
The Shinui Party, a centrist movement with a mostly domestic agenda, has 15 seats, making it the largest of Likud's three partners. It received five Cabinet positions. Shinui's leader, Yosef Lapid, does not reject creation of a Palestinian state but, like Sharon, rules out peace talks until violence is halted.
The other partners are the six-seat National Religious Party, which supports the interests of Jewish settlers in the West Bank, and National Union, with seven seats, an ultranationalist bloc that rejects any concessions to the Palestinians. Some of its members advocate encouraging Palestinians to leave the West Bank. The two parties each have two ministers.
Many Likud members also oppose significant compromise with the Palestinians, though the new government's platform declares: ``Achieving peace demands painful concessions by all sides.''
Likud's main rival, the Labor party, won only 19 seats in national elections last month. It withdrew in November from the last Sharon-led government and refused to re-enter a coalition unless Sharon pledged significant concessions to Palestinians.
Palestinians demand a state in all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip with a capital in the Arab section of Jerusalem. Speaking in parliament, Sharon ruled out giving up any part of Jerusalem and rejected another key Palestinian demand, the right of Palestinian refugees from the two-year war that followed Israel's creation in 1948 and their descendants to return to their original homes. That encompasses about 4 million people.
Along with Palestinian-Israeli violence, disagreements on those two issues were instrumental in the collapse of peace negotiations in 2001.