JERUSALEM ø Weeks after its rejection by his party, Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon has drafted a new plan for unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza
Aides said Sharon's plan marks a scaled-down version of his first
proposal for withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and much of the West Bank. They
said Sharon's latest proposal calls for a three-stage withdrawal from the
Gaza Strip and an Israeli military presence along the Egyptian-Gaza border.
Under the Sharon plan, the first stage stipulates a withdrawal from
Israeli communities regarded as isolated, such as Netsarim, south of Gaza
Strip, and Morag, aides said. The second stage envisions withdrawal and
dismantling of the Gush Katif settlement bloc. In the third stage, the
remainder of Israeli communities in the Gaza Strip would be removed.
Sharon ordered his aides to draft a new plan within hours of the Likud
Party's rejection of unilateral withdrawal by the party's rank and file on
May 2. Aides said Sharon cited U.S. and European Union pressure on Israel to
advance a withdrawal plan from the Gaza Strip.
At the same time, Sharon sent senior ministers and aides to Washington
to brief the Bush administration of new efforts to promote the unilateral
withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. On Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Ehud
Olmert began a series of meetings with senior administration officials to
discuss Sharon's intentions.
For their part, President George Bush and his senior advisers have
ignored the Likud defeat of Sharon's plan. Israeli officials said the
administration has demanded the dismantling of Israeli outposts in the West
Bank deemed as unauthorized as well as preparations for a withdrawal from
the Gaza Strip.
On Monday, an Israeli military and security force of 2,000 combatants
destroyed a building in the Mitzpeh Yizhar outpost. Israeli authorities have
targeted another outpost, termed Givat HaRoeh, north of Ramallah, as being
next in line for evacuation.
"The prime minister's plan is a bold, courageous step, that can bring us
closer to the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine,
living side-by-side in peace and security," Bush told the AIPAC convention
in Washington on Tuesday. "The prime minister's decision has given the
Palestinian people and the free world a chance to take bold steps of their
own toward peace."
[Later, the State Department's counter-terror chief, Cofer Black, told
AIPAC that Israel has been the most "stalwart" country to cooperate in the
U.S.-led war against Al Qaida. Black said the U.S.-Israel Joint
Counterterrorism Group, established in 1996, has become "an important part
of our counterterrorism partnership."]
So far, Sharon has met most of the ministers in his Cabinet where he has
encountered a mixed response. One of the ministers said Sharon's plan
appears to stipulate the handover of all of the factories and public
buildings in Israeli communities in the Gaza Strip to the United Nations or
another international agency. He said Sharon also wants Israel to destroy
all of the homes in those communities.
Aides said several Likud ministers warned that the new plan ø coming
about two weeks after Sharon's first proposal was defeated by a 60-40
margin ø-- could break up the coalition government as well as the Likud. They
said Sharon intends to submit the plan to the Cabinet by the end of May.