Knesset: West Bank, Gaza Strip Not Occupied
July 16, 2003, 08:59 PM
"The draft, submitted by the Likud Party, alleged that according to history, international law and agreements signed by Israel the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are not occupied lands .."
RAMALLAH, West Bank - Dealing a strong blow to peacemaking efforts rekindled by the roadmap plan and the truce declared by Palestinian resistance groups, the Israeli Knesset ratified late Tuesday, July 14, a draft legislation claiming the West Bank and Gaza Strip were not territories occupied by Israel.
The draft, submitted by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharons Likud Party, alleged that according to history, international law and agreements signed by Israel the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are not occupied lands.
The bill was approved by a majority 26 lawmakers, including 17 Likud members topped by Sharons son Omri, while opposed by only eight legislators.
The law outlined to the Israeli government red lines that must not be crossed in any future peace negotiations including full Israeli sovereignty over the holy city of Jerusalem and absolute opposition to the return of Palestinian refugees into their homes inside Israel, said the Israeli Yediot Aharonot daily.
As many as four million Palestinian refugees, most of whom live in surrounding Arab countries since being expelled in 1984 Israeli-Arab war, hope to return to their homeland.
But the Jewish state has categorically refused, saying an influx of millions of Palestinians would destroy the countrys "Jewish character."
The new law also stressed that dismantling the infrastructure of what it termed as Palestinian terrorism and the cessation of anti-Israel incitement are preconditions for negotiations on any political agreements.
Observers see the ratification as a blow to all efforts seeking to push forward the roadmap plan, which charts out a number of reciprocal self-confidence measures leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005.
It also came as embarrassing for Sharon, now on a tour of European countries to mend fences and beautify the image of Israel.
Although non-binding, the new legislation further erodes Sharons credibility as a man of his word, especially that he had recently signaled Israeli readiness to end "occupation" of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
"I think that the idea of keeping 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation is the worst thing for Israel, for the Palestinians and also for the Israeli economy," Sharon said in statements carried by the Israeli Maariv newspaper on May 25.
In Norway, where the now-failed Oslo Middle East peace accords was inked in 1993, Sharon was greeted by jeering crowds shouting slogans as "Ariel -- go to Hell".
The Knesset turned down two proposals submitted by the opposition Labor Party to support Sharons political plan, and the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality to back his statements on an end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
Sharons newfound willingness of compromise had been then seen by his critics as merely a political maneuver because he does not expect it to be put to the test, according to the BBC News Online.
The Palestinian Authority condemned the Knesset move as another stumbling block to the settlement of the decades-old conflict.
"Such decisions are dangerous, destructive for the peace process and roadmap" the Authority said in a statement quoted by Reuters news agency on its website.
Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Amr lamented the ratification as a disservice to peace overtures.
"The ratification muddied atmosphere conducive to making progress in the political perspective and discouraging to confidence-building steps," Amr told al-Arabiya satellite channel.
In another development, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a Fatah offshoot, Wednesday pressed for the dissolution of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas government and vowed a "shuddering" retaliation after Israel abducted three of its members a day earlier.
"We call on Abbas to disband the government and stop security coordination with the Zionists," the Brigades said in a statement obtained by Islamonline.net.
The abductions came in violation of the truce recently declared by Palestinian factions, according to which Israel should have stopped all aggressions against the Palestinians and the resistance activists.
The incessant Israeli breaches of the truce put the credibility of Abbas on the line, as he endeavors to convince Palestinian factions of the seriousness of talks with Israel and into abiding by the ceasefire.
"No agreement, no hudna, until all detainees are released," read the statement, referring to another bone of contention between the government and resistance groups.
Israel decided last week to release just 350 of the estimated 6,000 Palestinians held in its jails, but not a single member of the resistance groups Hamas or Islamic Jihad was among them. The ceasefire is also conditioned on setting free all detainees in Israeli jails.