Sharon Lays Groundwork For 'New Approach' To Peace Process

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - A car bomb exploded in Jerusalem late Thursday afternoon, just as Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon began laying the groundwork for a new approach to the peace process.

Sharon dispatched his first emissary to the Arab world to explain his stance on the peace process, as the Palestinian Authority called for negotiations to resume where they left off under Sharon's predecessor, Ehud Barak.

In Jerusalem, ten people were reported injured in the explosion. It happened just days after the militant Islamic Jihad organization vowed to carry out terror attacks to avenge the killing of one of its militants, who was shot while trying to enter Israel with 30 pounds of explosives strapped to his body.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah organization also vowed this week to intensify the uprising against Israel, after Israelis overwhelmingly voted to replace Prime Minister Ehud Barak with hawkish prime minister-elect Sharon. The election of Sharon is as an expression of hope that he will be able to stop the violence that accompanied the collapse of peace talks.

Also on Thursday, Sharon met with lawmakers from his own party to discuss cabinet appointments.

A newly-appointed team will begin negotiations Thursday evening to try to hammer together a coalition government. Sharon, who has pledged to unify the country, said he would invite "every Zionist party that wants to participate in a government that is responsible and strives for peace."

His Arab affairs advisor, Majali Wahabi, was sent to Amman on Thursday in a bid to reassure the leadership there that Israel was determined to seek peace, said senior Sharon advisor Raanan Gissin.

"Sharon is intent on bringing peace," Gissin said. But his would be a "different approach" than the one that was already "tested here and failed," he added.

Israelis overwhelmingly handed Sharon power earlier this week, in the hope he can restore security by quelling the five-month old violent Palestinian uprising and putting a lid on terror attacks.

Although the majority of uprising victims have been Palestinian, the bloodshed has severely rattled both Israeli and Palestinian confidence in the diplomatic process. It has also inflamed elements in the Arab world against Israel and prompted Egypt and Jordan to keep their ambassadors at home.

Sharon, viewed as a war criminal in the Arab world, has promised to pursue peace - but has also said he will offer the PA much less than Ehud Barak had. Barak's concessions were rejected by the PA as inadequate.

The PA issued a statement late Wednesday calling on Israel's new government to resume talks fromthe point they had reached before the election.

The PA insisted the talks recognise "our right to establish a Palestinian independent state with Jerusalem as its capital."

Sharon has already made it clear that he will not be tied down by any agreements reached by the previous government but never approved by a parliamentary majority.

And he has vowed never to divide Jerusalem.

Avi Pazner, an Israeli official who was heavily involved the most recent round of negotiations with the PA, said the Palestinians could expect much less from Sharon than Barak.

"Sharon is a good negotiator," said Pazner, who is to be among a group of diplomats Sharon will send to the U.S. and Europe next week to brief governments on his policies.

"He will offer less than Barak. They made the mistake of their lives [by rejecting Barak's proposals, which included a division of Jerusalem]. Now, they will not get as good an offer," he added.

Secretary of State Colin Powell indicated Wednesday that U.S. policy on Middle East diplomacy was shifting. What has in the past been referred to as the "peace process" would from now be called the "Middle East peace negotiations."

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher explained to reporters that "the search is for peace, not for a process." The Clinton administration was criticized at times for overemphasizing the "process" aspect.

Powell called Arab leaders Wednesday, urging them to calm the atmosphere in their countries following Sharon's victory.

He spoke with Jordan's King Abdullah II, Saudi Arabian Crown Prime Abdullah, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Shara, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa, the State Department said.

President Bush told reporters at the White House he would give Sharon "a chance to do what he said he was going to do, which was to try to form a unity government and reach out to the parties to promote peace in the region."

Both Bush and Powell telephoned Barak on Wednesday. Bush thanked him for his "contribution to U.S.- Israeli relations" and the "diplomatic and political courage" he showed in advancing the peace process.