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Sharon's New Plan Draws Internal Criticism - 2003-11-24

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says he will soon unveil a unilateral plan to get out of what he calls the impasse with the Palestinians. In an interview with Israel's largest newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, Mr. Sharon says he will present his new plan soon, but declines to give details.

The Israeli leader told his regular weekly cabinet meeting, Sunday, his plan parallels but does not contradict the internationally backed "road map" peace plan.

Israeli media are reporting that the Sharon initiative will call for the evacuation of some Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories. Those settlers would be resettled in the region of the Negev Desert in southern Israel.

The plan is already drawing criticism from members of Mr. Sharon's own cabinet especially expectations that it will include a dismantling of settlements.

Cabinet Minister Eliezer Zanberg of the Shinui Party says now is not the time to be withdrawing from settlements. "Evacuation of settlement[s] today can only signalize one thing to the other side, to the Palestinians, to terror organizations continue your violent struggle against Israel and at the end of the day you will reach something," he says.

The leader of Israel's National Religious Party, Effi Eitam says his party considers the dismantling of settlements as totally unacceptable. He says the issue for Israel is not settlements but international terrorism.

"If the settlements were the problem then we could think rooting some settlements would be the solution," says Mr. Eitam. "But again, I remind what's happened in America, what's going on in Turkey now, what's going on in many other places of the world where there is no(t) any settlements, no occupation, no road blocks, nothing just very extreme fundamental terror."

Some right-wing members of the government have threatened to resign, if the plan is implemented. Palestinian officials have expressed strong skepticism, saying the plan is little more than a public-relations campaign to deflect growing criticism of the way the Sharon government has handled peace negotiations.