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Sharon Criticized for Threatening to Unilaterally Separate from Palestinians - 2003-12-19

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been roundly criticized for saying, in a speech Thursday, he is preparing for possible unilateral separation from the Palestinians. Mr. Sharon's plan has been condemned by parties across the political spectrum in Israel and has failed to win support from the international community.

Mr. Sharon's proposal to separate Israelis from Palestinians within months if peace talks fail has been rejected by both the left and right sides of Israeli politics.

The Sharon plan calls for completing a security barrier in the West Bank and evacuating some Jewish communities from the territory.

The head of the National Religious Party, Effi Eitam, says his faction will not remain in the governing coalition, if Jewish settlements are uprooted.

Outraged leaders of the more than 200,000 Jews living in the West Bank also voiced their anger over Mr. Sharon's plan, outlined in a speech to a security conference on Thursday.

Yehoshua Mor Yosef, a spokesman for the settlers, says the dismantling of settlements and the expulsion of Jews from their homes will only encourage more Palestinian terrorism and bring about what he called the destruction of the Zionist dream.

The leader of the opposition Labor Party, Shimon Peres, rejected the plan for different reasons. He says Mr. Sharon should have presented a comprehensive vision for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict instead of proposing unilateral moves.

The Palestinian leadership has rejected the plan out of hand, saying it will never achieve peace.

Israel's main ally, the United States, urged Mr. Sharon not to adopt a go-it-alone strategy, but rather to negotiate with the Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia.

Officials from the offices of Mr. Qureia and Mr. Sharon have been involved in discussions for several weeks about holding a first face-to-face meeting.

So far no agenda or date has been agreed upon, but Mr. Sharon says he is ready to meet with Mr. Qureia without pre-conditions.