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SHARON, THE U.N. AND PALESTINE

Sharon To U.N: 'Now Is Time For Palestinians To Decide On Peaceful Co-Existence With Israel Or With Hamas, They Can't Have Both'

Israeli Officials: 'International Leaders Must Tell Palestinians They Must Reject Terrorists If They Want State'

Prime Time For Prime Minister In Match-Up With Netanyahu

The United Nations

On Thursday evening, Israeli time, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is to address the U.N. General Assembly with the world waiting to hear how the Israeli leader views the next stage of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Israeli officials say Sharon will hold out the vision of an independent Palestinian state but also reject the idea that the Palestinians can preserve the option of terrorism. The officials say it is now up to the international community to impress this on the Palestinian leadership.

‘Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will tell U.N. General Assembly Palestinians can live in peaceful co-existence with Israel or with Hamas; they can’t do both.’ A senior Israel official says this will be the gist of Sharon’s message to the world body on Thursday. The Prime Minister, now in the U.S., is to meet with world leaders starting with U.S. President George W. Bush and many world leaders. Basking in international praise for implementing the difficult disengagement from the Gaza Strip, Sharon is being hailed as leader of international stature who has taken a bold step at the risk of his political career. This new U.N. adulation is something new for Israelis who feel they have long been victimized by the world body’s ‘automatic majority’ against the Jewish state. Whatever the circumstances, the first-ever Israeli eviction of Jewish settlers from Gaza and Samaria is being perceived as an historic watershed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Actions speak louder than words for Israelis as well as Palestinians. Although Sharon can tell Newsweek magazine that he now plans on strengthening settlements in Judea and Samaria, the Prime Minister has proved that settlements can be evacuated. In establishing a precedent, Sharon has signaled the country that not all the settlements in the West Bank will remain there in a permanent agreement. The U.N. is clamoring to get on board the Sharon bandwagon - ‘Right on’, keep up the momentum so that ‘Gaza first will not be Gaza last!’ Even Pakistan, which peddled nuclear high-tech to Iran, has come out of the closet (maybe on the advice of the Bush administration). But this is only half of the equation, if the Roadmap is to lead anywhere. Sharon has proved he is in charge; the question is whether Mahmoud Abbas is. There is no way the Israeli Prime Minister can or will agree to enter peace negotiations for a Palestinian state with a Palestinian leader who pleads that he is too weak to make it stick. At present, the Palestinian are represented by the Palestinian Authority lead by Abbas, which calls for peaceful-coexistence with Israel and Hamas that vows openly to ‘conquer all of Palestine’ and exterminate Jews ‘from behind every tree and rock’.

By playing the ‘Too weak card’ in order not to dismantle Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the others, Abbas abdicates his right to act as ‘President’. In the wake of the recent assassination of Moussa Arafat, Abbas has even been forced by the Palestinian lawlessness to cancel his own U.N. appearance. Abbas again calls for exploiting Israel’s disengagement to enter the Roadmap despite the fact the Palestinian Authority is obligated to disarm the terrorists, something Abbas declares he will not do. Abbas expects them to voluntarily give them up or join the Palestinian Security Service by the end of the year. But if the Palestinian leader is too weak to take on terrorism surely he is too weak to negotiate a final peace agreement with Israel. Yes, the argument goes, but progress on the Roadmap will build Palestinian support for Abbas in his rivalry with Hamas in the upcoming election. But why would the Palestinians not see it as an ideal two track approach: Abbas acquires Israeli concessions through the Roadmap while Hamas is kept as a strategic terror reserve. It would boil down to a re-cycling of the failed Oslo process. The Israeli public will not go along with such a deal even if Sharon would, which he won’t.

Prime-Time For Prime Minister: Sharon’s speech, in Hebrew, has been scheduled for prime time on Israeli TV on Thursday evening. It will undoubtedly boost his standing with the the Israeli public at large and at the Likud convention in his confrontation with Binyamin Netanyahu next week. Polls show the former Finance Minister leading Sharon among Likudniks but trailing Sharon with all Israeli voters. Israeli officials now expect foreign officials to step up and make clear to Mahmoud Abbas that it’s time for deeds and not words. Sharon can be expected to offer the Palestinians another opportunity to establish their independent living at peace with Israel. However, if they opt for Hamas and the other terrorists, then Sharon’s Gaza disengagement will turn out to be a Roadmap detour to no-where not the fast lane to Palestine.

Footnotes: Deputy Premier Shimon Peres of Labor has been invited by Sharon to the U.N. General Assembly. When asked to respond to Sharon’s comment about consolidating West Bank settlement blocs, Peres replied this could only be done by relocating residents of settlements inside the settlement blocs and not building new settlements. Interviewed on Channel 1 TV, Peres hoped the current Palestinian looting and lawlessness in the Gaza Strip was only temporary until Palestinian security takes charge.

Likud hardliner , cabinet minister Zachi Hanegbi opposed the Gaza disengagement, but he dropped his own political bombshell the other day. Hanegbi said he did not rule out another unilateral Israeli disengagement in Judea and Samaria, if it’s impossible to negotiate an agreement with the Palestinians. Hanegbi said this could be linked to an Israeli annexation of settlement blocs in the West Bank. But even still, Hanegbi’s statement indicates the switch from the Land of Israel ideology to political pragmatism that is now being debated in the Likud.

David Essing

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