- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 21, 2002

From combined dispatches
JERUSALEM Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wants to annex up to half of the West Bank under an unpublished plan for the Palestinian territories that he is drawing up with close advisers, a senior minister in his government has said.
"As far as I know, the strategy is to annex 50 percent of the West Bank [for Israel], and this is incompatible with a two-state solution. It is not realistic," Transport Minister Ephraim Sneh told the London Sunday Telegraph.
Mr. Sneh, a Labor member in Mr. Sharon's coalition government, spoke at the end of a week in which Israel began winding up its largest military operation in the West Bank in more than 30 years.
Israeli tanks and armored vehicles yesterday began pulling out of Nablus, the largest West Bank city, and parts of Ramallah. But in a resurgence of violence, a Palestinian gunman and an Israeli policeman died in a clash at a Gaza border crossing and another Palestinian blew himself up near a border checkpoint.
The London newspaper reported that Mr. Sneh's remarks were a strong indication that the Israeli prime minister prefers to see a divided, weakened Palestinian entity with far less land than envisioned under previous peace plans.
Asked about the comments, Danny Ayalon, a senior Sharon aide, said the prime minister would wait for a regional peace conference which he has called for to discuss his proposals for Palestinian territory.
Israel also promised yesterday to cooperate with a United Nations mission to probe its crushing assault on the Jenin refugee camp, saying it had nothing to hide in the face of Palestinian accusations of a massacre. Palestinians said they hoped the U.N. Security Council's unanimous decision Friday to send a "fact-finding" team to the camp could lead to an international criminal trial of Mr. Sharon and others.
"We have nothing to hide, and we will gladly cooperate with this U.N. inquiry," Sharon spokesman Raanan Gissin said after the United States proposed the compromise U.N. resolution.
Mr. Sharon has played his cards close to his chest over his broader political strategy, saying only that he is prepared to make "painful concessions" to the Palestinians in the interests of long-term peace.
However, Mr. Sneh's comments will fuel speculation that the prime minister and the Israeli right are hoping to retain most of 150 Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Over the years, Mr. Sharon has pushed for annexation of up to 60 percent of the West Bank. When the deadline in the 1993 Oslo accords for creation of a Palestine state expired in May 1999, Mr. Sharon, then foreign minister in the Benjamin Netanyahu government, threatened to annex settlements if the Palestinians declared a state unilaterally.
Mr. Sneh, a rising figure in Labor ranks, plans to present alternative peace proposals to his party's conference in June, based on land swaps and Palestinian sovereignty over most of the West Bank.
Labor and the right-wing parties of which Mr. Sharon's Likud is the largest have maintained a united front in the anti-terror crackdown. However, Mr. Sneh indicated that rifts over a political settlement could cause the coalition to collapse.
Last week, Mr. Sharon called for an international peace conference, but demanded the exclusion of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Mr. Ayalon, one of the prime minister's closest advisers, said he would not be drawn into revealing details of any plans to offer the Palestinians a peace deal.
President Bush yesterday said Israel must press ahead with its withdrawal from Palestinian cities but did not repeat earlier demands for an immediate end to the offensive.
"All parties must realize that the only long-term solution is for two states Israel and Palestine to live side by side in security and peace. This will require hard choices and real leadership by Israelis and Palestinians, and their Arab neighbors," Mr. Bush said in his weekly radio address.
Asked about Mr. Sharon's reported annexation plan, a senior State Department official, requesting anonymity, told The Washington Times that "there may be all kinds of Israeli ideas," but no one should "get wedded to any one specific plan."
The official said the emphasis is on convincing Israel to "implement a complete withdrawal" from Palestinian towns and on convincing Palestinians to "take responsibility for getting the violence down and the political process going."
In Cairo, visiting Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji pressed Israel to withdraw immediately from Palestinian towns and called for a complete cease-fire.
Tanks and armored personnel carriers were seen heading out of Nablus and some Ramallah neighborhoods yesterday, but Mr. Gissin said troops would stay near Mr. Arafat's Ramallah headquarters. "Any place that we've finished we pull out," he said.
Israel has said it will maintain its siege at the shell-shattered compound where the Palestinian leader is confined until he turns over suspects in the October killing of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi. Israel yesterday rejected Mr. Arafat's offer to try them in a Palestinian court.
Israeli forces were expected to stay in the heart of Bethlehem until the end of a standoff between soldiers and armed Palestinians holed up inside the Church of the Nativity since April 2. A Franciscan priest inside said yesterday that food supplies had run out.
In the Jenin refugee camp, fierce fighting ended more than a week ago, but 11 persons have been wounded over two days by stepping on unexploded ordnance or opening booby-trapped doors intended for Israeli troops, hospital officials said.
U.S. Middle East envoy William Burns, calling for humanitarian aid, described the camp yesterday as the scene of a "terrible human tragedy" and "enormous suffering of innocent Palestinian civilians."
The scale of death and destruction remains in bitter dispute. Israel says about 70 Palestinians were killed, most militants. Palestinian officials estimate the death toll in the hundreds. Twenty-three Israeli troops were killed. So far, 43 Palestinian bodies have been found, six of them women, children or elderly men, Palestinian sources said.

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