Israeli PM’s talks over Gaza plan end in acrimony
JERUSALEM: A meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and leaders of the settler movement who are fiercely opposed to his Gaza pullout plan broke up acrimoniously on Sunday, public television reported.
The meeting at the premier’s office, which lasted some two hours, failed to reconcile any of the differences between the Jewish settlers and their one-time champion.
Pinhas Wallerstein, a senior figure in the Yesha settlers council, described Sharon’s uncompromising attitude in the talks as “disgraceful”. “It was one of the most disgraceful meetings with a prime minister of Israel,” he was quoted as saying by the television. “He (Sharon) is determined to lead the country to a split.”
Under the terms of Sharon’s so-called disengagement plan, all 8,000 settlers currently living in the Gaza Strip and four isolated Jewish enclaves in the northern West Bank, are due to be uprooted from their homes next year.
In turn, Sharon is hoping that such a unilateral measure will enable him to strengthen Israeli control over larger West Bank settlement blocs where the majority of settlers live. Settlers and their supporters have held several protests against the disengagement plan in recent weeks. Sharon is still looking to find a parliamentary majority for his plan when he presents it to MPs on October 25.
He lost his majority in the Knesset in June when previous allies were either sacked or resigned in protest at what settlers have described as the “forcible transfer of Jews”.
Separately, Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said in an interview here on Sunday that re-election for US President George Bush next month would be unlikely to bring progress to the Middle East peace process.
“If Mr Bush is re-elected, he promised that he would reinvigorate the peace process, but with his team around, and with his views so far, it doesn’t look very promising,” Shaath told BBC television. Shaath said victory for Democratic challenger John Kerry could signal a better outlook but that any progress would take time.
“If Mr Kerry were to win, most likely some of (former US president Bill) Clinton’s team would come back. That is okay, but it might take them a year before firming up a policy (on the Middle East). We cannot wait that long.”
Meanwhile, Israeli forces mounted a new incursion into the south of the Gaza Strip in the early hours of Sunday, a military spokeswoman said. agencies