Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Thursday pledged his commitment to the internationally-brokered road map to Middle East peace, and said that the implementation of the plan was both possible and necessary.
Speaking at a conference on issues of Israeli security, Sharon said, however, that Israel would "not wait indefinitely" for peace talks with the Palestinians, and said he would take unilateral steps if the Palestinians failed to stick to the road map.
"We are interested in conducting direct negotiations, but do not plan to hold Israeli society hostage in the hands of the Palestinians...We will not wait for them indefinitely," he stated.
If there is no progress toward peace in a matter of months, Sharon said, "then Israel will initiate the unilateral security step to disengage from the Palestinians."
He said that the "disengagement" plan would involve the redeployment of Israeli troops and changing the distribution of settlements to reduce the number of Israelis near centers of Palestinian population, and that uninhabited settlement outposts would be removed, "period."
"This reduction of friction will require the extremely difficult step of changing the deployment of some of the settlements," he said, without naming them. He also said Israel would "greatly accelerate" construction of the West Bank seperation fence.
The Israeli leader added that any measures would be coordinated with the United States, which received the contents of the address several hours before it was delivered.
Palestinians reacted with anger to Sharon's speech. Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei said that he was "disappointed" that Sharon was "threatening" the Palestinians. Qurei said that if Sharon would negotiate with the Palestinians, peace could come "sooner than expected."
"This is not a prescription for peace, this is a prescription for more war and more attacks and more isolation and more segregation against the Palestinian people," Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said.
On its part, Hamas called Sharon's plan "worthless" and pledged to continue its armed struggle. "Sharon is asking Palestinians to raise white flags, to surrender," Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin told Reuters. "This is totally rejected by our people. We will not surrender and our people will defend themselves. "It is all worthless," he said of Sharon's speech.
"This is a new language by the Israelis, and this is an evidence that the uprising has created a new fact on the ground," Sheikh Nafez Azzam, a leader of Islamic Jihad, told The Associated Press. (Albawaba.com)
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