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Israeli Cabinet Approves Quartet-Backed Peace Plan - 2003-05-25

The Israeli cabinet has approved an international peace plan known as the "road map" which calls for a Palestinian state by 2005. But the cabinet also resolved to deny Palestinian refugees the right to return to areas that are now part of the Jewish State. Israel's infrastructure minister, Yosef Paritzky, said the important decision shows that Israel wants to make peace with the Palestinians. "The decision that was 12 for and seven against and four abstentions shows that the government of Israel seeks peace, that we want to start negotiating seriously in bona-fide with the Palestinians and it is time to reach a [peace] settlement," he said.

But there were others who expressed a different view. Among those who opposed what Washington calls a "road map to peace" is Uzi Landau, minister without portfolio. "The road map is not a prescription for peace, but rather for more terrorism. It is really not expressing the vision of President Bush, but rather the European political interests, and I think that anyone here [who] really wants to have peace and wants to continue and combat terrorism, cannot reward terrorism with this roadmap," he said.

The cabinet decision marked the first time an Israeli government has approved an initiative that specifically backs a Palestinian state.

The finance minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, a former prime minister, was among those who abstained. He has said that a Palestinian state poses a danger to Israel's security.

The Palestinians accepted the "road map" plan last month, immediately after it was presented, but Israel sought major changes.

A former top Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, welcomed the cabinet decision. He said it is time for the so-called international Quartet on the Mideast - the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations - to move the process forward with a high-level meeting to coordinate timetables and monitors and see to it that both sides carry out their obligations. And he said both Israel and the Palestinians must make their intentions clear.

"The Israeli Government must immediately release a statement recognizing a Palestinian state and the Palestinians must issue a statement reiterating its recognition of the state of Israel and I believe it is really high time to translate words into deeds," Mr. Erekat said.

Mr. Sharon won majority support for the "roadmap to peace," after saying Israel's objections to the plan would be binding on future governments.

Those objections included a cabinet vote Sunday denying any right of return to millions of Palestinian refugees to areas that are now part of Israel.

The decision is certain to lead to friction with the Palestinian leadership. The new Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, said Palestinians have never given up their claim for the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and to areas within Israel itself.