US, EU hail Sharon cabinet for approving road map
The Israeli cabinet on Sunday approved the U.S.-backed road map for Middle East peace, that envisions a Palestinian state by 2005, but put forth a number of conditions.
The ministers approved the peace plan by a 12-7 vote, with four abstentions, marking the first time that an Israeli government has formally affirmed the Palestinians' right to statehood.
Earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was quoted Sunday as saying by Israel's most circulated newspaper Yediot Ahronot that the time has come for a land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians.
The strongest criticism of the plan was voiced by ministers from the National Religious Party and the National Union, who together hold four of 23 Cabinet posts.
Hard-liners in Sharon's own Likud party were also opposing the plan.
The European Union hailed the decision as "good news," and expressed the hope that the two sides would start to move ahead with the plan.
"We are very pleased and hopeful and confident that the road map will start rolling," said Diego Ojeda, a spokesman for the EU's executive commission.
"We look forward to working with all parties in the region to realize the vision of peace laid out by President [George W.] Bush in his June 24  speech," White House spokesman Adam Levine said. "It's an important step forward."
Meanwhile, Dr. Abdul Aziz Rantissi, a prominent leader of Hamas Movement, has affirmed that the Palestinian people were entitled to employ all means for the sake of defending themselves. One of the road map's initial steps include a cessation of violence.
Quoted by the Hamas' web site, Rantissi said, “The Palestinian people were never the aggressors but rather the Zionists ever since establishment of their entity on the usurped land of Palestine and even before that were the aggressors and the Palestinian people were in a state of self-defense”.
“The Palestinians are entitled to use all means available to defend themselves”, he said, adding, “There is no taboo as long as we are resisting usurpers of our homeland and holy shrines”.
The Hamas leader said halting resistance would mean giving up a legitimate right, arguing that ending resistance would only serve Israel’s interests.
“I am not ignoring the fact that we are suffering but we are suffering for the sake of a noble goal and if we do not suffer for its sake it will not be realised”, he explained.
© 2003 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)