- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 9, 2001

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak yesterday said that with peace chances remote, the Jewish state was ready to unilaterally separate from the Palestinians, cutting off Palestinians from Israeli jobs, trade and services over the next two years.

"We are prepared to disengage with the Palestinians through an agreement," Mr. Barak, who has accepted a plan proposed by President Clinton as a basis for negotiations with the Palestinians, told American reporters in a televised press conference beamed from from his Jerusalem office yesterday.

"If that is not possible, we will go for a disengagement that will be unilateral, by ourselves. We can't go on for 10 years like this," he said.

Mr. Barak, on a video hookup from Jerusalem to the Council on Foreign Relations, said separation or disengagement was being forced upon the Israelis by more than three months of Palestinian violence.

His talk of separation comes as Israeli forces begin carving up the West Bank to separate Palestinians from Israeli settlement blocks adjacent to Israel, according to a report in Ha'aretz newspaper yesterday. The Israelis also are building new roads to link the Jewish communities to Israel, the paper said.

Mr. Barak proposed that under a separation plan Israel would reduce the number of Palestinian workers in Israel by 3 percent to 4 percent each month until there are no Palestinians left with jobs in Israel, where they can earn 10 times as much as they can in the West Bank and Gaza.

To separate water systems and deal with the question of ownership of the West Bank aquifer, Mr. Barak said Israel could afford to desalinate sea water.

He warned that without Palestinian agreements to resolve the 50-year conflict, Israel would have to occupy a broad swathe of the Jordan valley to protect its eastern flank from Jordan and the more militant states further east such as Syria, Iraq and Iran.

And Israel would annex blocks of land adjacent to the Israeli border where 80 percent of Jewish settlers live, he said. However, the remaining, isolated Jewish settlements inside Palestinian-populated areas would remain under Israeli control, defended by the Israeli Defense Forces.

Ha'aretz reported that Israeli army bulldozers have begun changing the topography of the West Bank by closing roads used by Palestinians and creating new ones linking settlement blocks to Israel.

The de facto moves toward separating Israelis from Palestinians include moving border check posts eastward from the 1948 border into the West Bank.

Mr. Barak repeatedly said Israel, while ready to resume negotiations, was strong enough to deal with any eventuality even a regional war by several neighboring countries.

"The Middle East is not America," he said. "There is no security for those who cannot defend themselves, no respect for the weak."

"At the moment, there is more uncertainty than certainty on security issues which should have been dealt with in Cairo," he said, referring to talks yesterday between CIA chief George Tenant and Israeli and Palestinian officials.

Mr. Barak, facing hawkish Likud leader Ariel Sharon in Feb. 6 elections, took an extremely tough line yesterday opposing the right for up to 4 million Palestinians to return to Israel and refusing to consider a U.S. proposal for some form of Palestinian sovereignty over Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem.

"We will never be ready to have the right of return for Palestinian refugees into Israel," he said.

He called for a "Jerusalem, larger and bigger than ever in Jewish history, united under our sovereignty" and said Israel will never abandon control over the Wailing Wall, the City of David, the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, the Mount of Olives and other sites holy to Jews.

"I will not sign a document giving sovereignty over the Temple Mount" to the Palestinians, who claim it as the Haram al Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, he said.

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