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Sharon Peace Initiative Faces Opposition from Israeli Army - 2003-11-30

Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, is reportedly in disagreement with top Israeli army commanders over his plan to take unilateral action if peace talks with the Palestinians break down. At the heart of the dispute is whether Israel should evacuate Jewish settlements in the absence of a peace agreement.

Israeli media reported Sunday that Mr. Sharon's recent hints about the possible dismantling of Jewish communities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have not found favor with Israel's top general.

According to the reports, the head of the Israeli Defense Forces, General Moshe Ya'alon, has expressed strong opposition in private to the proposals.

General Ya'alon said he would support the evacuation of Jewish settlements only as part of a comprehensive peace agreement with the Palestinians, according to the Hebrew daily newspaper Ha'aretz on Sunday.

He was reacting to Mr. Sharon's statements last week that, if the next round of peace negotiations ends in failure, he would consider what he called unilateral steps to end the conflict with the Palestinians.

Mr. Sharon said that Israel could not remain forever in all areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israeli officials told reporters this could be taken to mean that Mr. Sharon is weighing the possibility of evacuating some Jewish settlements and withdrawing troops from parts of the territories.

The future of the Jewish settlements has become an emotive issue with Mr. Sharon's Cabinet.

At the Cabinet meeting on Sunday, the Israeli justice minister, Yosef Lapid, sharply criticized Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz for what Mr. Lapid said was a lack of progress in dismantling new Jewish outposts established without government approval.

Mr. Lapid said Israel is losing the battle for world support over the settlements issue, and is even facing a rift with its main ally, the United States.

Mr. Mofaz responded that at least 43 illegal Jewish outposts had been removed by the Israeli army, and that more would be dismantled in the near future.