- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 6, 2004

JERUSALEM — A top aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was quoted as saying yesterday that Israel’s planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is intended to block Palestinian statehood indefinitely and that the policy had U.S. backing.

The Ha’aretz daily also quoted Dov Weisglass, Mr. Sharon’s point man in dealing with the Bush administration, as saying Israel is avoiding negotiations with the Palestinians because it does not want to discuss thorny issues such as the future of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees.

The comments, published in the Ha’aretz daily, contradicted the Israeli government’s assurances that it remains committed to the U.S.-backed “road map” and its vision of Palestinian statehood. Mr. Sharon’s office later issued a statement saying the prime minister remains committed to the road map.

“The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process,” Mr. Weisglass told Ha’aretz. “Effectively, the whole package called the Palestinian state with all that entails has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission — all this with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress.”

Mr. Weisglass added: “What I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns.”

Mr. Weisglass told Israel Radio yesterday that Ha’aretz had cut one of his quotes. “Everything that was said was that at the current time, with a broken-down Palestinian Authority, with murderous Palestinian terrorism, there is not and will not be peace negotiations that could, God forbid, lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state anchored in anarchy,” he said.

Ha’aretz noted in its story that the quotes were excerpts, and that the full interview would be published tomorrow.

In Washington, State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli acknowledged the statement from Mr. Sharon’s office and said the United States’ “understanding is that Israel is committed to a Middle East peace plan known as the road map and President Bush’s vision of Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side.”

Mr. Ereli also said U.S. officials in Israel had discussed Mr. Weisglass’ reported statements with Israeli officials and had made it clear that the statement did not coincide with what the United States believed to be the Israeli government’s position.

Mr. Weisglass’s comments appeared largely aimed at courting Israeli hard-liners. The prime minister has lost his parliamentary majority over the plan, and has not been able to broaden his coalition during the summer recess. Parliament is reconvening next week and will vote on the Gaza withdrawal in the coming months.

Mr. Weisglass told Ha’aretz that Mr. Sharon’s plan of “unilateral disengagement” from the Palestinians, to be carried out next year, is meant to prevent a resumption of negotiations.

The plan “supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians,” he was quoted as saying.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said Mr. Weisglass had uncovered Israel’s real intentions. “Weisglass claims that the Americans are supporting him, and I would like once again to hear an American response on that matter,” he said.

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