Sharon Still Backs Road Map After Advisor Calls Peace Process 'Frozen'

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Israel still supports the U.S.-backed road map peace plan. Sharon spoke after a senior advisor was quoted as saying that Sharon's disengagement plan is intended to put the peace process on hold and prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.

In an interview with Ha'aretz, excerpts of which were published on Wednesday, Dov Weisglass, the head of Sharon's bureau and a key liaison with Washington, said, "the significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process."

The unilateral disengagement plan, which won the approval of President Bush in April, calls for the removal of all Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip by the end of next year. Four smaller settlements in the West Bank would be evacuated as well.

Bush gave Israel what some called "historic guarantees" in a speech backing the plan, indicating that Israel could not be expected to evacuate large West Bank settlement blocs, nor accept the right of return of Palestinian refugees.

The disengagement plan was not well received among Palestinians, many of whom consider it a trick. Israeli settlers didn't like it either, nor do Israelis who believe the unilateral disengagement plan will create a serious security risk for Israel. But opinion polls indicate that about 70 percent of Israelis support the plan.

Analysts and even close associates have been hard-pressed to explain why Sharon -- an early backer of the settlement movement, especially in the Gaza Strip -- would float such a plan.

Weisglass said that there were a number of factors contributing to Sharon's decision to propose the disengagement plan, including a stagnant economy, an alternative plan called the Geneva Initiative put forth by left-wing Israelis, the refusal of a small number of Israeli pilots and commandos to serve in the territories as well as American pressure.

"In the fall of 2003 we understood that everything was stuck," Weisglass said. Although the Americans found fault with the Palestinians, not the Israelis -- Weisglas said Sharon "grasped that this state of affairs could not last, that they wouldn't leave us alone, wouldn't get off our case."

Weisglass said that Sharon, by implementing the disengagement plan, effectively froze the peace process as well as all the concessions connected with it.

"When you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda," Weisglass was quoted as saying.

"And all this with authority and permission. All with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress...what I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns," he said.

Sharon issues statement

Sharon's office issued a statement on Wednesday afternoon saying that he does support the road map peace plan "which is the only plan that will enable progress towards a lasting political settlement."

A key component of the road map is the establishment of a Palestinian state, supposedly by the end of next year. Another main element was the cessation of all terrorism.

Sharon's statement laid the blame for the "current stalemate" on the Palestinians, whom "are refusing to honor their commitments and who are continuing to cling to the path of terrorism, violence and incitement."

Sharon said the disengagement plan was launched in the absence of a Palestinian partner. The plan, he said, will "Israel's diplomatic position, improve its ability to protect its citizens, and ease the suffering of the civilian population" until a negotiating partner emerges.

Labor Leader Shimon Peres condemned Weisglass' statements. "There will be no security until there is peace," Israel Radio quoted him as saying.

Yachad leader Yossi Beilin, one of the architect's of the Oslo peace process and the Geneva Initiative, reportedly said that Weisglass had "unveiled the true intentions" behind the disengagement and showed that Sharon was not a peace partner.

Palestinian Authority minister Saeb Erekat said he was not surprised by the comments.

"I believe Weisglass' [comments] reflected honestly the true intention of this Israeli government," Erekat said by telephone. "It is consistent with the policies of the government to undermine the peace process and the road map."

Erekat said he had urged members of the Quartet -- the U.S., European Union, United Nations and Russia, who wrote the road map -- to incorporate the disengagement plan into the road map with timelines for implementation.

Dr. Efraim Inbar of the BESA Center for Strategic Studies said that while it was unusual to hear things spoken so clearly, he was not surprised by Weisglass' comments.

"I think it's quite clear that the Palestinians are unable to establish a state [and] as a result, a different concept was needed," Inbar said.

The disengagement plan was intended "partly to gain time and also involve the Egyptians and Jordanians to try to contain the dangers of Palestinian society," he said. The Palestinian problem is not only Israel's, he added.

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