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US Delegation to Visit Israel as Controversy Surrounding Sharon Plan Continue

An official U.S. delegation arrives in Israel on Wednesday for talks with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on his plan to dismantle Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas. Reactions to Mr. Sharon's plan to dismantle most of the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and possibly some in parts of the West Bank range from support to wariness to vehement opposition.

Those most opposed to Mr. Sharon's plan are, not surprisingly, the Jewish settlers who would have to move.

Yehudith Tayar is one of the leaders of the settlement movement. She tells VOA, Mr. Sharon's plan is simply unthinkable and would be seen as yielding to terrorism and leading Palestinian militants to believe their constant attacks against Israelis have driven the settlers out.

"Since when do you give a prize to terror by uprooting innocent people from their homes and saying 'I can't take it anymore, the only way I'm going to face this is by running away.' You don't run away from terror," she said. "You have to resolve it. You have to make sure that it's disintegrated, that it's destroyed. This is a global issue. It's not only an Israeli issue."

Ms. Tayar says she does not believe Mr. Sharon's plan will ever gain enough support to be implemented. But, recent opinion polls have shown that the majority of those Israelis who were asked support the dismantling of settlements as a way toward peace.

The Palestinians are wary of the Sharon proposal. On the one hand, they will hardly oppose any move that would remove Jewish settlements from Palestinian land on which they hope to build a future state. On the other, they don't trust Mr. Sharon, and Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat says there is no real plan.

"Mr. Sharon is testing a balloon on what he terms the long-term interim solution - that he wants to withdraw from Gaza, add to it maybe 40 percent of the West Bank and then say to the Palestinians, why don't you take this and declare your state - the cities between walls," he said. "And, we will not discuss settlements, Jerusalem or refugees or borders."

Mr. Erekat says these central issues must be negotiated, not dictated unilaterally. He says he hopes the Americans will not support Mr. Sharon's unilateral plan and will instead insist on negotiations.

Wariness has also been the watchword from the Americans. The United States wants Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate a settlement along the lines of the so-called "road map" to peace. Washington does not want unilateral steps to take the place of negotiations. But the road map is leading to nowhere and the United States has indicated that dismantling settlements could be a positive step within a broader framework of peace negotiations.

The Sharon plan is to be the topic of discussion when U.S. National Security Council officials Steve Hadley and Elliot Abrams and State Department envoy William Burns meet with Prime Minister Sharon and some of his top advisers.

As Mr. Sharon talks of dismantling settlements, the Finance Committee of the Israeli parliament has just approved more than $20 million in new funding for Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.