Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon admits his government is not adhering to the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan. In an interview with a leading Israeli newspaper, he also says his initiative to withdraw Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip and small parts of the West Bank will not likely lead to further withdrawals from Palestinian areas, possibly for a long time to come.
Prime Minister Sharon says his unilateral disengagement plan is not linked to the road map peace plan, which foresees further dismantling of Israeli settlements in Palestinian areas and calls for a Palestinian state by 2005.
In an interview in the Yedioth Ahronot newspaper, Mr. Sharon says following the road map would, in his words, have brought Israel to a "very difficult situation." He says, clearly, Israel is not "now going with the road map."
Both Israel and the Palestinians had accepted the road map peace plan, which was put forth by the Americans, the Russians, the Europeans and the United Nations. Prime Minister Sharon stood alongside then-Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbass in Aqaba, Jordan, when President Bush launched the plan there, more than a year ago. However, neither side has implemented even the initial phases of the plan and the road map has effectively gone nowhere.
Instead, Mr. Sharon came up with his own plan for unilateral disengagement, whereby he vows to dismantle all 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza and four small ones in the northern West Bank, before the end of 2005.
In the newspaper interview, Mr. Sharon says he proposed the disengagement initiative to the Americans, last November, when Washington wanted Israel to restart peace talks with neighboring Syria. Mr. Sharon has repeatedly rejected overtures from Syria to resume negotiations.
Washington eventually sanctioned the disengagement plan, as did the Europeans, as a good first step along the lines of the road map.
But, in the newspaper interview, Mr. Sharon says that, after the disengagement from Gaza and small portions of the West Bank, he does not foresee any further withdrawals, possibly for what he calls a "very long period of time."
He says that, to reach further moves, there must be a change in the Palestinian strategy. And, he says he sees no indication of that.
Although Palestinians generally welcome any Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian areas, most have long said that Mr. Sharon's withdrawal from Gaza is a ploy to tighten Israel's control over greater portions of the West Bank.