Sharon Giving Palestinians A Choice: Road Map or Unilateral Moves

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's suggestion that he is considering taking unilateral moves is a clear word to the Palestinians to come back to the road map or else face one-sided moves by Israel, an analyst close to Sharon said on Wednesday.

Sharon told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday that he was still committed to the U.S.-backed road map peace plan but said that if it became "absolutely and finally clear" that the Palestinians had brought about the road map's failure he would consider making a "comprehensive unilateral security move."

Sharon was quoted as saying that he was currently "putting together a series of ideas, perhaps a new program, the same program that everyone is talking about."

Analyst and long-time Sharon associate, Uri Dan, said that Sharon's intentions are clear from his statements.

"Mr. Sharon says so plainly, get back to the road map, otherwise we have to come [and] take unilateral [steps]," Dan said in a telephone interview.

The road map was agreed on by all the parties, Dan said. Sharon is saying "stop terrorism" and then Israel can "talk business."

Palestinians are opposed to unilateral moves by Israel, which they fear would leave them with less territory than they could gain from an agreement.

But retired Maj. Gen Avraham Rotem of the BESA Center for Strategic Studies said that he thinks Sharon has already made up his mind to take unilateral steps.

"I hope Sharon thinks in his heart that he will have to do things unilaterally, [that he] can't wait for the Palestinians," Rotem said.

Unnamed U.S. officials were also quoted by the Ha'aretz website on Wednesday criticizing the idea of Israel taking unilateral steps.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom called on the Palestinians Wednesday to return to the peace process, calling it the "only game in town."

"The time has come for [PA Prime Minister] Abu Ala to return to the negotiating table without preconditions. The world is waiting for you," Shalom said prior to meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Geneva, Switzerland.

The first step in the road map is for the PA to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, collect illegal weapons and jail militants. Israel has said that without that nothing can move forward.

"Direct negotiations between the parties is what matters," Shalom said. "The roadmap is the only game in town, and in the city of Geneva, we are accomplishing real peace, as opposed to a virtual peace."

"Virtual peace" was a reference to the Geneva Accord signed between left-wing Israelis and Palestinians last week in the city. Israel condemned the accord as undermining the road map.

PA Chairman Yasser Arafat offered half-hearted backing to the initiative, although his own Fatah party as well other militant groups condemned it.

But while Washington said it was still behind its own peace plan, Secretary of State Colin Powell met with the planners of the Geneva accord, angering Israel.

It's not clear if Powell's meetings with the Geneva planners influenced Sharon's decision to move forward.

Moving Settlements

As part of that plan, Sharon, said that some settlements might be "moved" in advance of wide scale unilateral steps designed to beef up Israel's security position if the Palestinians bring about the collapse of the road map.

But Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat dismissed Sharon's statements on Wednesday, saying that, "It's all a show."

Palestinians want all the Jews out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip where they hope to establish a Palestinian state.

Sharon built most of the settlements and his Likud Party has long supported the settlement movement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where more than 200,000 Israelis now live in Jewish communities. But party members have been indicating for the last week that that may now change.

"We in the Likud are very tied to the Land of Israel. After all, we came here to return to our land, from the Diaspora," said Dr. Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

"Nonetheless, we came here to establish a Jewish state, and we have no intention of sacrificing the Jewish state for the sake of Greater Israel," Steinitz said in a radio interview.

"Greater Israel" refers to the idea of having a Jewish state on all the Biblical Land of Israel, including the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and the Gaza Strip.

Steinitz said he believed that most members of the Likud Party accepted the idea and recognized the need to "separate from the Palestinians."

One of the main Israeli arguments for separating from the Palestinians is that in order to preserve a Jewish state, it must maintain a Jewish majority.

Because of population growth Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip along with Israeli Arabs would outnumber Israeli Jews within a few years. Presumably, an Arab majority would not want to maintain the Jewish character of the state.

Likud Party member and Trade and Industry Minister Ehud Olmert drew lively responses from left and right last week when he said in an interview that Israel should consider pulling out of most of the West Bank and Gaza Strip territories unilaterally.

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