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US Delegation Discusses Disengagement Plan with Israeli PM - 2004-02-19

A high-level U.S. delegation has met with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to discuss his proposal to withdraw settlers from the Gaza Strip.

Mr. Sharon's office issued a statement saying the Israeli leader gave the U.S. envoys a broad overview of his plan to dismantle most of the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and some in the West Bank.

It said the prime minister remains committed to President Bush's vision and stressed that the "road map" peace plan is the only diplomatic plan acceptable to Israel.

According to U.S. officials, the three American envoys: National Security Council members Steve Hadley and Elliot Abrams, and the State Department's William Burns, came to listen and find out what Mr. Sharon has in mind, and report to President Bush.

Mr. Sharon has said that if peace talks with the Palestinians fail, he will remove as many as 17 of the 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip. Palestinians have said that while they welcome any dismantling of settlements, they reject any attempt by Israel to unilaterally impose the borders of a future Palestinian state.

Israeli officials say Mr. Sharon's disengagement plan is not incompatible with the U.S.-endorsed international road map for peace plan. Israel maintains that the Palestinians are not upholding their part of the plan, and that is why unilateral steps may be required.

The Palestinians blame Israel for the lack of progress on the "road map" plan.

The United States has been wary of endorsing Mr. Sharon's plan, not wanting unilateral action to take the place of a broader negotiated settlement.

The U.N. Middle East envoy says that Prime Minister Sharon's proposal to unilaterally withdraw settlers from the Gaza Strip would be counterproductive. Speaking at the United Nations on Wednesday, Terje Roed-Larsen said any withdrawal should be carried out with Palestinian and international cooperation.