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Sharon Urges Palestinians to Make Peace - 2003-12-18

Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, warns he will unilaterally cut his country off from the Palestinians if they do not start working towards peace soon. He says he intends to complete the construction of a controversial security barrier in the West Bank to help facilitate a policy of separation.

Mr. Sharon says Israel wants direct negotiations with the Palestinians under the international "road map" to peace plan.

At the same time, he says Israeli society will not wait indefinitely for the Palestinians to make peace.

He says that if there is no progress in talks towards a settlement of the conflict within the next few months, then Israel will initiate the "unilateral security step to cut itself off from the Palestinians".

Mr. Sharon outlined his vision in a long-awaited speech on Thursday, at a conference on security in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv.

Under his plan, Israel would evacuate some Jewish settlements in the West Bank and bring the residents inside the Jewish State.

Israel would also speed up the building of a security barrier inside the West Bank to prevent more Palestinian terror attacks.

Mr. Sharon says the barrier will, in his words, "reduce friction with the Palestinians".

The Palestinian leadership rejected Mr. Sharon's plan.

The Palestinian Minister for Negotiations, Saeb Erekat says unilateral moves are intended to win Mr. Sharon's domestic support and will never achieve peace.

Palestinian militant groups also said Mr. Sharon's plan would not end the conflict.

The Islamic Jihad, a group that carries out suicide bombings and other terror attacks, says violent resistance will continue against the Jewish state as long as there is Israeli occupation of what it calls Palestinian land.