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No Statehood for Palestinians Without Israeli Support, vows  Sharon - 2004-01-11

Israel has rejected a threat by the Palestinian leadership to unilaterally declare an independent state in the absence of a peace agreement.

Officials in the office of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon say they do not accept that Palestinians have the right to establish their own state without the support of Israel.

The officials were responding to a statement by the executive committee of the PLO, the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Senior members of the committee said Saturday that they considered they had the right to unilaterally declare a state for Palestinians made up of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem - the areas that Israel took during the 1967 Middle East war.

Officials in Mr. Sharon's office told Israel's Army Radio that the Palestinian Authority is not even able to manage the self-rule areas under its jurisdiction. Therefore, they say, there can be no discussion of statehood.

The PLO statement follows Mr. Sharon's recent threats to unilaterally cut his people off from the Palestinians, if peace talks do not succeed.

On Thursday, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia issued his own threat, proposing to push for a one-state solution of Arabs and Jews.

Under his plan, Palestinians would seek to gain citizenship in an area that would include all of what is now Israel, plus the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

His plan would likely spell the end of Israel as a Jewish state. Demographers say that the higher birth rate of Palestinians would quickly put Jews in the minority.

But chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat distanced the rest of the leadership from Mr. Qureia's plan, saying it does not constitute official policy.

Mr. Erekat told Israel Army Radio that the Palestinian Authority is committed to establishing a state within the boundaries of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem.

He says Mr. Qureia's comments are a reflection of Palestinian fears that Israel's refusal to stop settling Jews in these areas could eventually destroy all hopes of a two-state solution to the conflict.