Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has reaffirmed his commitment to the peace process in a policy speech to parliament. He also defended some controversial policies.
Opening the winter session of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, Mr. Sharon reaffirmed his support for the internationally-backed road map peace plan.
The road map is the "only plan that gives hope for peace and security for both [the Israeli and Palestinian] peoples," the Prime Minister said. But he added that the Palestinians must keep their commitment under the road map and wage "a real war" on terrorism. If they don't, Israel will.
"Israel will continue to defend itself and hit the perpetrators of terrorism," Mr. Sharon added, referring to a Palestinian suicide bombing last week that killed five Israelis. He accused Iran and Syria of sponsoring Palestinian terror. He said the call by the president of Iran "to wipe Israel off the map" "expresses what many in the region want but are afraid to say out loud."
While expressing support for the road map, the prime minister also promised to strengthen Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank. That would violate the road map, which calls for a freeze on settlement activity.
He also vowed to speed up construction of Israel's controversial West Bank separation barrier. The barrier is aimed at keeping suicide bombers out of the country, but the World Court in the Hague has ruled that it is illegal and must be torn down. Mr. Sharon says that won't happen.
He said that the barrier is vital to Israel's security and it will be built.