Israel bows to U.S. demand for Palestinian state in 2004

Special to World
Monday, December 22, 2003

JERUSALEM Israel has accepted a U.S. demand for a Palestinian state in the entire Gaza Strip and most of the West Bank in 2004.

Israeli officials said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon relayed his agreement in a series of talks with the Bush administration over the implementation of the so-called roadmap, an internationally-sponsored plan that envisioned an interim Palestinian state by the end of 2003 and an entity with permanent borders in 2005. They said Sharon has accepted a U.S. proposal for an interim Palestinian state in 2004 regardless of Palestinian Authority agreement to end the more than three-year-old war and dismantle Palestinian insurgency groups.

"This security line will not be a permanent border of the state of Israel," Sharon said in a televised address on Thursday. "But until the implementation of the roadmap will be renewed, the military will be spread along this line. Settlements which will be replaced are such, that in any possible pattern for future and final agreement, they will not be included in the territory of the state of Israel."

The Israeli plan would be launched in April 2004, the officials said. They said this would enable the Bush administration to press the PA to end insurgency violence and facilitate Israeli withdrawal.

By July 2004, officials said, the United States would prepare for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the entire Gaza Strip and most of the West Bank. Israel has pledged its willingness to agree to additional territorial concessions in any final status negotiations with the Palestinians.

"The proposal for an interim Palestinian state in 2004 was the key U.S. demand from Israel and was seen by Washington as a measure of our strategic relationship," an aide to Sharon said. "Sharon hasn't defined the boundaries of the interim state, but thinks that if the Palestinians end their attacks on Israel they could get more territory."

The Israeli pledge called for an evacuation of all Israeli communities in the Gaza Strip and from large portions of theWest Bank, officials said.

Those communities evacuated in the West Bank would be merged into blocs while Israelis removed from the Gaza Strip would be resettled within the pre-1967 Israeli border. They said Sharon has raised the issue of compensation for those Israelis evacuated, but the adminstration has not made any commitments.

Aides said the prime minister, who intends to present a comprehensive plan for evacuation to the administration in January, relayed the main points and some of the text of Thursday's address to the White House. The aides said the speech was meant to assure President George Bush that his vision of a Palestinian state would be realized before U.S. elections in November 2004.

"We will not tell them [United States] of every little thing," Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said. "We are not small children. But on central things, we will consult with them."

Officials said that for months Sharon had argued that the implementation of the roadmap depended on the end to the Palestinian war and the dismantling of Palestinian insurgency groups, terms outlined by Bush in a speech in June 2002. They said Sharon's position increasingly rankled the White House and State Department, which over the last month began to suggest that the Israeli prime minister was seeking to withdraw his commitment to the roadmap.

Other elements of Sharon's pledge to the United States detailed an Israeli commitment in June 2003 for a ban on construction in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Officials said Sharon's latest pledge would end construction of new communities or neighborhoods, halt the expropriation of land for construction and suspend economic incentives to reside in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Unauthorized communities or neighborhoods would be dismantled, officials said.

In Washington, the administration stressed Sharon's pledge that any unilateral withdrawal would not block implementation of the roadmap. A senior administration official said an Israeli unilateral withdrawal could help set the stage for a Palestinian state within the deadline set by the roadmap. The official dismissed Sharon's threats of unilaterally redefining Israel's borders as an attempt to assuage his right-wing supporters.

"Unilateral steps can help the roadmap move forward if they are part of the roadmap and steps under the roadmap," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

Israeli officials said the first step in the withdrawal plan would be the evacuation of unauthorized outposts in the West Bank, a key demand of Washington. They said this would take place over the next few weeks and include the dismantling of inhabited Israeli outposts.

The Defense Ministry will also draft a plan to evacuate Israeli communities from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, officials said. They said the evacuation plan would seek to ensure that Israel retains enough of the West Bank to negotiate a permanent settlement with the Palestinians.

"From the moment the prime minister outlines action and timetable, there will be preparations for an operational plan for unilateral withdrawal," Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim said.

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