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ARABS-ISRAEL - May 25 - Israel Approves 'Road Map'.

The Israeli government approves the US-backed peace plan, known as the "road map", in a 12-7 vote with 4 ministers abstaining, including former PM Benjamin Netanyahu. (The move means that the Israeli government for the first time officially accepts a Palestinian claim to eventual statehood. The "road map" calls for achieving by 2005 a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace and a sovereign state of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which Israel occupied in the Six-Day War of 1967. The state's precise borders are to be negotiated). The voting comes after Sharon made his most sweeping statement about the need to compromise for peace, telling Yediot Ahronot: "The moment has arrived to divide this tract of land between us and the Palestinians. I am no less connected to those tracts of land that we will be forced to leave in time than any of those who speak loftily. But you have to be realistic, what can and what cannot stay in our hands". Sharon envisions parting with far less land, over a much longer time, than PA officials would like. He reluctantly sought approval of the peace plan after the US administration rebuffed his demand to first make significant changes, saying that it would "fully and seriously" address Israel's reservations as the plan moved ahead. The White House called Israel's decision "an important step forward". PA officials welcomed it as well, while saying the plan should not be changed. The Israeli government also held a second vote to overwhelmingly reject a Palestinian "right of return" to what is now Israel for refugees of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Sharon unsuccessfully sought to have the PA concede that right before he moved on the peace plan, which calls for the matter to be resolved in the last of three phases.

The vote on the "right of return", together with pressure from the US, prompted seven members of Sharon's Likud Party to join the five ministers from the centrist Shinui Party in supporting the peace plan. "I think the document is not a good one, but we have to choose when we battle the US, and now is not the time", Ehud Olmert, a minister from Likud who voted for the plan, told Israel Radio. But Yisrael Katz, also of Likud, said: "I object to a Palestinian state being established, and I could not support a plan that envelopes an Israeli recognition". He voted against. The government accepted the steps of the plan, rather than the overall plan. But creating a Palestinian state first with "provisional" borders, then with full sovereignty, is a central step. While Sharon had previously said he accepted statehood as an inevitability, no Israeli government had done so. The ministers resolved that all of Israel's proposed changes "will be implemented in full" as the plan is put into practice. No one bolted the governing coalition. Predicting that the plan would go nowhere, far-right ministers said they would have more influence over the peace process by remaining inside the government. As its first step in the first phase, the plan calls for a statement from the PA of unconditional ceasefire, and a statement from Israel affirming a commitment to a two-state solutions. The PA is to confiscate illegal weapons and confront "all those engaged in terror", while Israel is to immediately dismantle the dozens of settlement outposts built under Sharon, since March 2001. According to the "road map", these steps are to be taken "in parallel", but Sharon wants the PA to crack down on extremists and end incitement before Israel makes concessions. Israeli officials say progress in the plan can be judged only according to performance, but PA officials want the plan to proceed according to its timetable, which envisions the first phase ending in six months. Then, in a second phase, the Palestinians will form an independent state "with provisional borders and attributes of sovereignty".

In the third phase, the two sides are to draw up final borders, resolving their disputes over Jerusalem and the "right of return". Sharon favours a long-term, interim agreement, rather than the plan's ambitious schedule to statehood and peace. He may hope to adapt the peace plan to that strategy. Some of his associates have suggested that the second phase provisional statehood could last for many years. Palestinian PM Mahmoud Abbas is said to hate the idea of a provisional state, because he fears it will diminish international attention to this conflict by turning it into just another border dispute. Sharon, an architect of Israel's settler movement, was also one of its most aggressive military leaders from before its founding. He was once an advocate of retaining the West Bank and Gaza and declaring Jordan the Palestinian state. Shlomo Avineri, a political scientist at Hebrew University, said that Sharon's shift reflected the primacy he placed on Israel's alliance with the US. He said: "Sharon moved from the position of a general who thinks in terms of mountains to a statesman who thinks in terms of strategic alliances. It's not a softie position, but a position that tries to be realistic, pragmatic".
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:May 31, 2003
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Next Article:ARABS-ISRAEL - May 27 - Clashes On West Bank.

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