Israel seeks United States’ backing for disengagement
JERUSALEM: Israeli officials continued talks here on Friday with three US envoys to outline further Ariel Sharon’s plan for a unilateral disengagement from the Palestinians.
The hawkish prime minister, meanwhile, saw his popularity rating fall to an all-time low, with a fresh polls showing 57 percent of his fellow citizens are not pleased with him. Assistant US Secretary of State for Near East Affairs William Burns, National Security Council number two Stephen Hadley and its Middle East director, Elliott Abrams, arrived in Israel Thursday to discuss Sharon’s plans to withdraw from 17 of 21 Gaza Strip settlements.
Sharon has said he will start implementing his disengagement plan in the next few months if there is no progress in the internationally drafted roadmap for peace with the Palestinians. The three met Friday morning with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Sharon’s chief of staff, Dov Weisglass, US diplomatic sources told AFP without elaborating on the content of the talks.
Shalom has made no secret of his opposition to the disengagement plan and warned that its adoption could lead to far-right parties pulling out of Sharon’s coalition and provoking early elections.
The foreign minister will travel to Washington next week to discuss the plan with US officials and will also meet with the United Nations General Secretary Kofi Annan.
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, who is in the United States, was slated to resume talks Friday with officials there in a bid to obtain their crucial backing ahead of a possible visit by Sharon.
Washington has insisted that the disengagement plan must be in line with the roadmap and include the West Bank. “Any such steps, any moves towards disengagement, should be part of a strategic, comprehensive approach that takes into consideration not just Gaza, but the West Bank as well,” said Burns deputy David Satterfield on Thursday.
The US envoys were also meeting later Friday morning with Palestinian finance minister Salam Fayyad and Saeb Erakat, the Palestinian minister in charge of negotiations, at the US consulate in Arab east Jerusalem, the sources said. The two ministers were just back from Paris, where they accompanied prime minister Ahmed Qorei on an official visit.
After talks with President Jacques Chirac, Qorei told reporters he would meet with Sharon if an agenda is agreed upon at a preparatory meeting Sunday.
He also said Palestinian security services “will be able to start getting organized and providing security,” after Israel’s Gaza withdrawal.
Security on Israel’s southern border with Egypt once Sharon withdraws from Gaza was the focus of talks Thursday in Cairo between Shalom, his counterpart Ahmed Maher, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.
Shalom obtained guarantees that Egypt would ensure security on that border. And Mubarak dispatched Suleiman to Washington soon after the meeting, state media reported Friday as “part of Egypt’s intense efforts to relaunch the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.”
Israeli papers speculated Friday on the ever-changing details of Sharon’s proposed plan.
Haaretz said the premier was “considering restricting his disengagement plan to Gaza only, without a concomitant withdrawal from the West Bank, in light of the growing opposition to the plan among Likud ministers.” —AFP