Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon Monday called on moderate Arab leaders to come to a summit to discuss Middle East peace. But he indicated that the Palestinian Authority no longer existed.
Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat reacted angrily to Sharon's speech, calling it "disastrous."
"The Palestinian Authority is here and will stay here because it takes it legitimacy from our people," Erekat said in a telephone interview.
PA-controlled areas have been besieged by Israeli troops and tanks for the last 10 days in an operation that, according to Israel, is designed to destroy the terrorist infrastructure imbedded in the society there.
Israel has declared PA Chairman Yasser Arafat an "enemy." Israeli officials say they discovered documents in his Ramallah headquarters that implicates the Palestinian leader as the director of terror attacks.
In a lengthy televised address to the Israeli parliament, Sharon said Israeli troops would stay in PA-controlled areas until they have completed their mission. He said that mission was to apprehend terrorists, seize weapons and destroy terrorist laboratories but not to wage war against the Palestinian people.
Sharon's hour-long address, carried live with translation by both CNN and BBC, followed a weekend of calls by President Bush and other administration officials to end the 10-day old Israeli incursion into PA areas.
Bush has sent Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region, and in a weekend press conference, Bush repeated his call for Israel to withdraw without delay from the PA areas it recently moved into.
In a telephone conversation over the weekend, Sharon told Bush that he would make every effort to accelerate what Israel is calling 'Operation Defensive Shield,' aware that the U.S. wants to see the action end quickly, according to a statement from his office.
In his speech, Sharon said Israel had launched the military operation to take actions that the PA should have taken itself. Nevertheless, he said, Israel's war was against the terrorists and not the Palestinian population.
Sharon said Israel is interested in peace with its neighbors but that could only happen if Palestinian leaders "assume responsibility to prevent the use of its territory to murder its neighbors."
"We have no war against you and we do not want to control you," Sharon said, speaking directly to the Palestinian people. "We want to live with you, side by side, with dignity and honor. [But] your must take your fate in your hands... You must reject the forces that have brought upon you catastrophe."
But Erekat charged that Sharon was only offering the Palestinians peace if they agreed to live under "Israeli occupation." He accused Israel of destroying the moderate Palestinian camp and officials "like me." Arafat, he noted, is the only Palestinian leader to have recognized the State of Israel.
He also said Sharon was mocking Arab leaders by offering to meet with them to discuss ways of stopping terrorism.
Erekat also accused Israeli troops of destroying the Palestinian water, electric and sewage infrastructure during the present incursion into PA areas.
An army spokesperson responded to the charges by saying that Palestinian militants had placed a bomb on the main water line into Bethlehem, hoping not only to injure the soldiers but to cut off water to residents there, which could then be blamed on Israel. Sappers managed to defuse the bomb without damaging the water carrier, she said.
In Ramallah, an electric pole was downed last week, leaving residents without electricity for a few hours but there was no other such damage, she said.
Near the end of his speech, Sharon announced that he was adding three new right-wing ministers to his coalition government, a move that has raised the question among some in the Labor part as to whether or not it should remain in the government.