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NEWSWEEK SHAKES UP ELECTION CAMPAIGN

Newsweek: 'Senior Sharon Official Says Prime Minister Would Agree To Palestinian State In 90% Of West Bank And A Jerusalem Compromise For Peace'

PM's Office: 'The Newsweek Report Is Categorically False'

PM Ariel Sharon

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's carefully managed election campaign has left all the other parties far behind. However, a Newsweek report has upset the Sharon applecart at least temporarily. The American magazine quoted Kalman Gayer, Sharon's pollster spelled out a far ranging compromise the Prime Minister was prepared to make for peace with the Palestinians.

Is Ariel Sharon now ready for a Palestinian state in 90% of the West Bank as well as a deal on Jerusalem? Yes, according to a Sharon official quoted by Newsweek magazine.

Newsweek quotes Kalman Gayer, Sharon's pollster as making the statement. He reportedly said: 'Sharon would accept a Palestinian state in Gaza and 90% of the West Bank and a compromise on Jerusalem, in exchange for peace'. The comments have set off a firestorm in the election campaign. First, the PM's office called the report senseless and absurd. Yes, Gayer had given a background briefing to the Newsweek reporter but he denied the quotes.This is the first stumble by the Sharon team that has placed the Prime Minister far ahead of the pack. But now Sharon's former Likud party has pounced on the story. Likud front runner Bibi Netanyahu says: 'the cat is out of the bag; Sharon is going to implement the left wing polices of Labor, including the partition of Jerusalem'. However, Labor party whip Ephraim Sneh retorts: 'It's not true, Sharon is not ready to negotiate a viable Palestinian state, he wants to dictate a solution'.

Jerusalem

Cui bono? What could Sharon have gained from a leak about such startling concessions that cost Labor's Ehud Barak the previous election? It could be argued that he is winking at possible Labor voters but he would risk losing right-wingers who have followed him out of the Likud. It doesn't make political sense; Sharon would be shooting himself in the foot. Secondly, Sharon keeps his cards close to his chest and it is out of character for him to have his pollster leak a story that could damage his campaign. His top aide Dov Weisglass did give an interview before the Gaza withdrawal saying Sharon would exploit it to consolidate West Bank settlements. But this was aimed at right-wingers who opposed the unilateral evacuation last summer. In any case, Newsweek has energized the leadership race in the Likud and given the rivals some ammunition to attack Sharon, rather than each other.

David Essing

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