Israeli opposition leader Shimon Peres says the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon should further adjust the route of its controversial West Bank security barrier to assure the international community that it is not a unilateral move to impose a border with the Palestinians. Mr. Peres met Monday in Washington with Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Mr. Peres spent more than a half hour with Mr. Powell, in a meeting that covered the controversial security barrier but also the Sharon government's recent proposals to remove settlements from Gaza as part of a strategy of "disengagement" from the Palestinians, if peace efforts under the international "road map" cannot be revived.
Mr. Peres, chairman of the opposition Labor Party and a former prime minister himself, said the idea of a prime minister of the rightist Likud party like Mr. Sharon advocating the dismantling of settlements is "good news."
But he said such a plan must not stop at Gaza but also involve "elements" of the West Bank as well so that it can enjoy broad domestic and international support, especially from the United States and Europe.
As to the security barrier, Mr. Peres said criticism of it by him and his party preceded that of the United States and that decision Sunday by the Sharon government to re-route one especially controversial section in the northern part of the West Bank should be followed by others. "We were critical before the United States. We thought the barrier should have just one function, which is security, and never become pregnant with any political appetites. I'm very glad that the government has started to now correct the barrier, and in one or two points the corrections were done. I hope it will be fully corrected so to demonstrate that this is not the future border, but the present barrier," he said.
The Bush administration had urged the World Court not to take up the barrier issue, but has also been critical of the project as being prejudicial to a possible future territorial settlement between Israel and a future Palestinian state.
Under questioning, Mr. Peres challenged the notion by the Sharon government that the Palestinians are unwilling to confront terrorism, saying the question "is their capability, not their will."
He said he believes most Palestinians want to "get rid of" terrorism and are themselves victims of acts of terror committed in their name, and that Israel should carefully analyze what can be done to enable them to fight the problem as they should.
The former Israeli prime minister said overall quest for peace between Israel and the Palestinians is not simple, but neither is it hopeless.