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Sharon's Government Presents New Peace Proposal - 2004-05-06

Israel's largest newspaper is reporting Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government has presented a new peace proposal to the United States and Europe. Sunday, Mr. Sharon's party rejected a more limited proposal.

The report in Yedioth Ahronot newspaper described an initiative that is even more comprehensive and far reaching than the one turned down by Likud voters in a referendum last weekend.

The paper said that national security council chairman Giora Eiland was the author. The new plan, like the previous one, begins with a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and from several small settlements in the West Bank, but it goes much further, spelling out in some detail additional aspects that give the plan the look of a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The key points in addition to the disengagement from Gaza are:

Israel would cede control of 89 percent of the West Bank.

Egypt would give 600 square-kilometers of its territory in the Sinai for use by the Palestinian population, while Israel would cede 200 square-kilometers of Israeli land to Egypt.

The newly expanded Gaza territory would be connected to Jordan by a tunnel.

How this new Palestinian area would be administered is not clear, although the newspaper report spoke of U.S., Egyptian and Jordanian custodianship of the territory.

Palestinians have already rejected the proposal. Cabinet Minister Saeb Erakat said Israel should stick to implementation of the Roadmap peace plan and the signed agreements, instead of searching for other ideas and other plans.

Some analysts are expressing their doubts about the seriousness of the proposal and see it more as a public relations effort to make Mr. Sharon look like an advocate of peace.

Political commentator Akiva Eldar said that, to be taken seriously, the plan must have international backing, in particular from the so-called Quartet, comprised of the United Nations, European Union, Russia, and the United States.

"If it will come first and foremost from the United States, if President Bush will put it on the table and say 'take it or leave it' and you know what it means [to] leave it," he said. "If you turn your back on the United States, your best ally, then Sharon can say this is a new ball game and bring it not to his party and let the settlers have the upper hand, but bring it to the Knesset and to the Cabinet, I would not be surprised if this plan can get a majority in the Knesset."

The internationally backed Roadmap calls for a series of steps that would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005. No progress has been made on implementing it since it was unveiled nearly a year ago.