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PM Sharon: ‘2005 Is A Year Of Unique Opportunity, One That Must Not Be Missed’‘Possibility Of Historic Breakthrough For Peace With Palestinians’ 'Iran and Syria Are Still Outside Middle East Peace Camp'

Analyst David Essing: ‘Sharon’s Upbeat Outlook Leaves Labor Little Choice But To Get On Board New Coalition’

PM Sharon

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon presented an optimistic forecast for the year 2005. Addressing the Herzliya Conference, Sharon pledged to work for peace with the Palestinians spoke of peace with the Palestinians. In his first major address since the death of Yasser Arafat, the Prime Minister said it was possible for an Israeli and a Palestinian state to live in peace. However, a new and responsible Palestinian leadership must eliminate terrorism and incitement.

Clockwise From Left: Pres. Assad Mahmoud Abbas Pres. Mubarak MK Peres (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Ariel Sharon may not have a coalition government at present; nonetheless, he has great expectations for the year 2005. The Prime Minister is upbeat about advancing peace with a new Palestinian leadership and forging stronger ties with Egypt and other Arab states. However, Iran and Syria were odd men out! In a state of the nation address, Prime Minister Sharon declared this is the hour! Israel must take the initiative and move toward an historic breakthrough for peace with the Palestinians! Yasser Arafat had been the greatest obstacle to peace and hopefully, Israel and the Palestinians could move toward reconciliation and negotiation without terrorism. The Prime Minister hoped for a free and democratic Palestinian election on January 9th Israel; Israel would do its part by facilitating Palestinian freedom of movement and redeploying its troops while protecting Israelis as the Palestinians go to the polls. Sharon hoped that a new, responsible Palestinian leader will emerge and if so, the Prime Minister would be ready to co ordinate Israel’s upcoming Gaza withdrawal with him. And Sharon went on to talk of a possible settlement and maybe even real peace and a Palestinian state. This type of cooperation would be far better for both peoples. While the Israeli leader spoke of concessions to the Palestinians for peace, Sharon also made crystal clear there would be concessions on Israeli security now or in the future. Sharon declared: The alternative of one people ruling another people is a disaster for both peoples!’ And more - the year 2005 could see the banishment of terrorism and laying the foundations for Israeli-Palestinian peace in future years. Therefore, the PM concluded it must be a year that is not missed.In the Arab world, Sharon spoke in glowing terms about the thaw in relations with Egypt and security co-ordination before and after Israel’s disengagement from Gaza. He personally thanked President Hosni Mubarak for releasing Azam Azam and also stressed that a ‘vigorous Egyptian’ crackdown of Palestinian arms smuggling would facilitate Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. A spin-benefit would be a reduced Palestinian dependence on Israel. Farther afield, Sharon appealed to the Arab world to take advantage of the window unique opportunity saying no one could say how long it would remain open. He said: 'Israel extends her hand in peace, we have no desire to rule you or run your affairs’. And on a personal note, the PM added that he had paid a heavy personal price by embarking on his current course and he hoped that Arab leaders would also be ready to take historic decisions.However, Iran and Syria were another matter. Iran calls publicly for Israel’s destruction and is developing weapons of mass destruction. Tehran has teamed up with Syria to back the terrorists of Hizballah, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in their campaign against Israel. Sharon charged Iran and Syria of working against democracy and peaceful reforms in the Middle East. In this context, Israel, moderate Arab states and the entire world had an interest in working for regional stability.Sharon referred to his ‘most important understandings with U.S. President George W. Bush which the American leader had reaffirmed this week. No return to the ’67 borders, large settlement blocks on the West Bank and no return of the Palestinian refugees to Israel. The Roadmap, no imposed settlement, would be on the table and it obligated the Palestinians to banish terrorism and incitement. Israel was also entitled to act in her own self - defense against external threats.

As for the upcoming disengagement, Sharon again declared it would be carried ‘without any hesitations’. It recognized the demographic reality and ‘Israel had nothing to look for in the Gaza Strip. ’He also rejected right wing critics who warn it will split the Israeli people saying: ‘On the contrary, it has unified Israelis’.

Footnotes: At last year’s Herzliya Conference, Sharon unveiled his disengagement plan, he has taken it forward into implementation and presented his vision for future developments. He has ‘seized the hour’ and offered the Palestinians to respond in kind. But if Palestinian frontrunner Muhmoud Abbas has said No to terrorism but Yes to the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel, Sharon replied ‘Forget it!’Syria- Sharon informed Syria’s President Bashar Assad there’s nothing to talk about as long as Damascus is supporting terrorist activity against Israel.Labor. The PM has in effect, put Labor on the spot. His upbeat speech about new peace prospects and not missing the year of unique opportunity will make the Laborites look like petty politicians haggling over cabinet portfolios while Sharon takes the high- road of statesman. With so much at stake, it should make it easier for Shimon Peres to cajole his left wing colleagues into the government.

David Essing

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