Outposts and the wall on the "Road Map": Sharon's new promises

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says it is clear his country will have to give up control of some occupied Palestinian territory as part of future peace efforts. . "It is clear that in the end we will not be in all the places where we are now," the hawkish right-wing premier said. Recent reports have hinted that Sharon may be planning a withdrawal from isolated Jewish settlements such as Netzarim in the Gaza Strip, as part of a package of unilateral steps.

On the contrary, his Deputy Defense Minister Zeev Boim told the Israeli army radio Thursday that the process of authorizing several Jewish settlement outposts in the West Bank was almost complete. "Illegal settlement outposts were created over the past three years and the procedure engaged for their legalization are about to be completed," he said.

It is also important that Mr. Sharon told reporters Thursday that Israel plans to speed up construction of a controversial security barrier that juts into parts of the West Bank. He said the barrier is vital for Israel's security. He also warned the Palestinians that time is running out for them to get concessions from Israel, and said Israel might take unspecified “unilateral steps” if peace efforts remain stalled.

The wall snakes into the West Bank and leaves hundreds of Palestinians homeless. It sucked Israel into waves of criticisms, as U.S. President George W. Bush singled it out as an obstacle to negotiations. But Sharon insisted that relations with Washington "remain friendly", raising regional resentment that the Bush administration does not take serious actions against its ally. Less than two days after the U.S. took a rare punitive measure against Sharon’s settlement policy and the wall construction, many analysts see the statements as a challenge to the international community. A diplomatic source called the move a "brazen" violation of the road map agreements and Israel's commitments to the US. Mr. Sharon's comments come two days after the U.S. government announced it will deduct nearly $290 million from a $9 billion loan package for Israel as a penalty for settlement activity and construction of the barrier. But the source added that it is unlikely that the U.S. will react to the outpost legalization. "In the past the U.S. administration has swallowed this kind of stuff after only a mild protest," said the source. The U.S. will only begin to issue demands on Israel to pull back from the illegal settlements if the Abu Ala government begins a significant crackdown on Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Situation around the outposts

Unauthorized outposts were built in the past three years. Some of them are towns. The Defense Ministry says that 22 outposts have been evacuated since June. All but four have been reestablished, according to Peace Now. A Defense Ministry official said that majority of the outposts are unpopulated, and consist of little more than a water tower and a shipping container, but other outposts consist of mini-communities with dozens of residents. According to the road map, Israel was obligated to evacuate the wildcat outposts while the Palestinians were to dismantle the terrorist organizations. The government has failed to remove many of them due to legal complications, said the official.

Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim was first Israeli official to voice the legalization of the outpost. His unauthorized statement in an interview to Army Radio on Thursday morning comes less than two weeks before Sharon is slated to meet with Abu Ala, in a meeting that both Israeli and Palestinian officials have been billed as the possible resurrection of the road map. Sharon refused to deny it later.

The legalization of hitherto unauthorized outposts could derail an imminent summit in the near future between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority Prime Minster Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala), Palestinian officials said Thursday. "This will torpedo Abu Ala's meeting with Sharon," PA Minister of State, Kadura Fares told the Jerusalem Post Thursday. "If legalizing outposts is the message from the Israeli government to the PA there is no way that Abu Ala can justify meeting Sharon to the people," he added. "The policy on the outposts shows that the Israeli government wants to do the same to the Abu Ala government as it did to the Abu Mazen government: cause it to fail. This shows that the Sharon government does not want to commit in any way to the road map," said Fares, who warned that such a move might "bring a bloodbath."

Earlier in the day, at a Tel Aviv press conference, Sharon said that all of the outposts which were established illegally "to provoke the government" will be removed. However, he added, outposts protecting settlements are of essential security importance. "What is legal is legal, what is illegal is illegal, and the illegal [outposts] will be removed," Sharon said. In the press conference, Sharon, a key architect of the settlement movement, refused to guarantee the future of Netzarim, a settlement of 60 families in the heart of the Gaza Strip. "I don't mean to give any promises to anyone about one settlement or another," he said after being asked about Netzarim's fate. "We have to make a decision ... I'm not making any commitments now regarding this or that community."

Situation around the wall: Geneva new initiatives

The Geneva initiative - an alternative and unofficial blueprint drawn up by Israeli left-wingers and Palestinian figures - is due to be launched on Monday in Switzerland. It deals with all key issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the international attention it has attracted has put pressure on Sharon to work harder towards the resumption of peace talks. [more on the Geneva Initiatives: http://english.pravda.ru/world/20/91/365/11373_Israel.html]

Ariel Sharon slammed the new Geneva peace initiatives as damaging to Israel and vowed to expedite the construction of the widely-criticized separation wall in the West Bank. "Geneva is an attempt to do something only a government can do. Only a government can conduct political negotiations and sign an agreement. It is damaging and embarrassing for Israel, it's a mistake to put on such a show and at the same time jeopardize a program which is the only one that can bring a solution," Sharon argued, in reference to the roadmap.

Senior Israeli and Palestinian officials were meeting in London Thursday at an informal seminar. Sharon’s son Omri is to take part in the two-day seminar with Jibril Rajub, a key adviser to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

But the Israeli premier undermined these peace efforts, accusing the Palestinians of failing to crack down on armed groups: "We do not see the slightest attempt by the Palestinian Authority to take action against terrorism. That is why Israel has got to do what it's got to do," he claimed, warning of other unilateral steps. "I am not in favor of an arbitrary timetable, but our patience has limits. I may reach the conclusion that there is no reason to wait for another Palestinian government and another one, and I may take unilateral measures," Sharon warned.

Four Palestinian civilians, including a nine-year-old boy, were killed by Israeli gunfire overnight, and the Israeli army made a fresh incursion into the West Bank city and camp of Jenin, where many local inhabitants were detained.

[Based on reports by Voice of America, Jerusalem Post and Islam On-Line. Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuter]

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