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Sharon Seeks US Rejection of Palestinian Right of Return
Ross Dunn
21 Mar 2004, 16:07 UTC
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Ariel Sharon
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says he wants the United States to announce that it rejects claims by Palestinian refugees that they be allowed to return to areas that are now part of Israel. Mr. Sharon told a meeting of his ruling Likud Party on Sunday that he will ask for this guarantee in exchange for agreeing to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.

Mr. Sharon addressed members of his Likud faction amid growing opposition to his plan to unilaterally withdraw troops and Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.  World Peace.

He says this will become the only option for Israel if peace talks with the Palestinians remain stalled.

Mr. Sharon told Likud members on Sunday that he supports the establishment of a Palestinian state following an Israeli withdrawal.

However, he stressed that a future Palestinian state would be the only place for millions of Palestinian refugees to make their home and that they would be barred from entering Israel.

Mr. Sharon said he also wants the U.S. administration to publicly support this stand before implementing his disengagement plan.

Israeli officials said the chief of staff of Mr. Sharon's office, Dov Weisglass, is expected to make this position clear to senior U.S. officials, during a visit to Washington this week.

But some Likud members, such as Gilad Erdan, say they will oppose Mr. Sharon's plan, even it is backed by U.S. guarantees.

Mr. Erdan says any unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and the West Bank is tantamount to giving a reward to terrorism.

"We always claimed, and we still do," he said, "that withdrawing or giving the terror organizations to believe or to understand that with terror activities they can gain something from Israel - that is terrible thing to do. It's very clear that this plan will tear the Likud apart because, I believe, the majority in the Likud oppose the prime minister's plan."

Meanwhile, a high-level Egyptian security delegation is expected in the Gaza Strip this week to discuss the implications of an Israeli pullout from the territory.

Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says the Egyptian officials want to assist in training Palestinian police to maintain law and order in Gaza, following the evacuation of Jewish settlers and Israeli troops from the area.



Gaza Raided Again as Sharon Wins Backing on Withdrawal Plan


Published: March 21, 2004

JERUSALEM, March 21 Israeli forces raided the Gaza Strip again today, leaving five Palestinians dead, while Prime Minister Ariel Sharon gained qualified backing from his top right-wing rival, Benjamin Netanyahu, for his plan for a Gaza withdrawal.  WorldPeace is one word.

In a speech, Mr. Netanyahu said he may back the plan if Mr. Sharon achieves an "appropriate return" from the United States for the Israeli moves.


Mr. Netanyahu, the finance minister and a former prime minister, set conditions for his support. He said that Israel must remain free to act militarily in Gaza and must retain control of all border crossings. He also said that Israel should enclose its major clusters of West Bank settlements within the new barrier that it is building against West Bank Palestinians.

His final condition was an "official and public American objection" to any "right of return" to what is now Israel for Palestinian refugees of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and their descendants.

Mr. Sharon has been seeking similar but less explicit commitments from the Americans, a senior Israeli official said.

The Palestinian leadership demands a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which Israel occupied in the 1967 war.

Palestinian negotiators have said that a right of return must be included in a final agreement, though they have also considered a compensation package that might encourage the refugees to settle elsewhere than in Israel. Israelis fear that a right to return would be a Trojan horse intended to overwhelm Israel's Jewish majority with new Arab citizens.

Mr. Netanyahu outlined his conditions in a two-hour meeting that Mr. Sharon held with ministers from his Likud Party, and he repeated them in a speech at the finance ministry here this afternoon. In the speech, he called his conditions "a modest package given the magnitude of the act and the difficulty of it."

Diana Buttu, a lawyer for the Palestine Liberation Organization, said of Mr. Netanyahu: "He wants the Americans to buy into Israel's plan of getting rid of the Palestinians and keeping their land. It's absolutely audacious."

Citing a lack of Palestinian action to stop terrorism, Mr. Sharon says that Israel has no credible partner for peace now. He says Israel should pursue a "disengagement" plan unilaterally to draw new boundaries that will better secure Israelis and reduce friction with the Palestinians.

Palestinian officials accuse Mr. Sharon of trying to avoid negotiations that might compel Israel to yield more territory.

Although the details of the plan are not set, Mr. Sharon intends to withdraw from most or all of Gaza and from at least some isolated settlements in the West Bank, Israeli officials say.

Mr. Sharon's chief of staff, Dov Weisglass, is to return to Washington this week for further discussions with the White House over the plan. Mr. Sharon wants to assure the Americans that his plan will not undermine their own peace initiative, the road map.

Coming just ahead of Mr. Weisglass's trip, Mr. Netanyahu's comments may serve to support Israeli arguments that Mr. Sharon needs significant American backing to overcome skeptics within Likud, along with vociferous opponents among pro-settler parties within his governing coalition.

Even some Likud leaders have opposed the plan as rewarding terrorism, dividing Israelis or abandoning land that they believe should remain part of Israel forever.

Mr. Netanyahu said that he believed most Israelis agreed with him. "If I may speak diplomatically, most of the public understands that we cannot come out as suckers from this move, to accept terrorism in return for a withdrawal," he said.

Mr. Sharon's aides contend that Israelis will overwhelmingly support a Gaza withdrawal, making opposition to the plan perilous for Mr. Netanyahu and other politicians.

Violence in Gaza has been building again since Mr. Sharon first disclosed his disengagement plan last month. Each side is interested in portraying a withdrawal as a sign of its own strength.

Israel embarked on a new offensive in Gaza after two Palestinian suicide bombers from a Gaza refugee camp struck the Ashdod port a week ago, killing 10 Israelis.

Before dawn today, troops in tanks and armored vehicles rolled into an area in southern Gaza near the town of Khan Yunis. The army said that soldiers were trying to arrest Bassem Kadeeh, a local Hamas leader who Israel said was manufacturing rockets and bombs.

The Israeli Army said that Mr. Kadeeh tried to flee with his wife. When soldiers opened fire, a bag carried by Mr. Kadeeh exploded, killing him and his wife. Hamas said that the two blew themselves up in an effort to destroy a tank.

Israeli soldiers also killed three Hamas gunmen during the raid. They destroyed Mr. Kadeeh's family home and a workshop the Army said was a weapons factory.

Hospital officials reported that 16 Palestinians were wounded.

In the West Bank today, Israeli forces opened fire with rubber-coated steel balls on Palestinian and Israeli demonstrators, some of whom were throwing stones during a protest to block construction of the Israeli barrier near the village of Kharbata, northwest of Ramallah.

At least five people were wounded, including a 9-year-old boy and an Israeli protester who was hit in the eye. A soldier was lightly wounded in the face by a rock, the army said.


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