- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon proposed a three-stage peace plan for the Middle East during a televised address to about 4,000 American supporters yesterday.
During his speech to members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Mr. Sharon repeated a proposal he has made for a regional peace conference including the United States, Israel, the Palestinians and moderate Arab states "to bring about a cessation of hostilities."
He said Israel would present a peace plan that includes three phases:
A complete cessation of violence.
A long-term intermediate agreement similar to an armistice.
A permanent agreement in which final borders would be established for Israel and the Palestinians, "ending the conflict between us and the Palestinians and the Arab countries."
Hours later, members of his administration told reporters that Israel has withdrawn its offer to cooperate with a U.N. fact-finding mission being sent to determine what happened during Israel's operation in the Jenin refugee camp earlier this month.
An official told the Associated Press that Israel believes the United Nations has violated agreements with Israel in its selection of people for the commission and in drawing up its terms of reference.
Israel said it would not admit a U.N. fact-finding mission probing its siege of the Jenin refugee camp unless the team included military as well as counterterrorism experts.
In response, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the team might be expanded "as deemed necessary," but he expected only a short delay in the mission, which he wants in the region by Saturday.
"The secretary-general agreed to postpone the departure of the fact-finding team to allow consultation to take place, but he expects the team to be in the Middle East by this Saturday," Mr. Annan's office said in a statement
A State Department official said the United States continued to support the investigation.
In London, a British Foreign Office aide, Ben Bradshaw, condemned reports of the Israeli government's about-face, warning that Israel was doing itself "irreparable damage" in the eyes of the international community.
He told the British Broadcasting Corp. that the move "would be a very foolish thing to do, the latest in a string of cataclysmic public relations mistakes by the Israeli government."
He added: "If Israel has nothing to hide, they have absolutely no reason not to allow this team to go ahead."
In his address to the committee, Mr. Sharon also defended his 3-week-old incursion into the West Bank and rejected charges of excessive use of force by Israeli soldiers.
It was not clear whether the intermediate agreement would follow the lines of a plan disclosed by Israeli Cabinet ministers in recent days calling for up to half of the West Bank to be annexed by Israel on an "interim" basis.
But in any case, the Sharon plan diverges markedly from the U.S. and Palestinian approaches to restoring the peace process.
The U.S. plan pushed by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on his recent trip to the Middle East calls for working on a cease-fire and the political track at the same time.
Palestinians also call for immediate moves toward solving political problems such as settlements, refugees and boundaries, and they refuse to discuss a cease-fire unless those issues also are brought forward.
The Palestinians have rejected the idea of another interim agreement, which would essentially freeze Israeli control over most of the West Bank and delay any further land transfers to the Palestinian Authority.
Palestinians say their anger, which spilled over into violence and an intifada in September 2000, came because the interim agreement set up after the Oslo peace accords of 1993 was dragged out while Israel continued to build settlements in the West Bank.
Mr. Sharon defended Israel against criticism by U.N. and human rights officials over injuries and deaths to civilians during its three-week military campaign against suicide bombers and terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank.
"In Afghanistan, the United States is fighting terrorism," he said. "Sometimes innocent civilians are caught in the cross fire. Israel is fighting terrorism on our doorstep. We have a moral right and obligation to defend ourselves."
Much of the criticism has concerned events in the refugee camp in Jenin, the scene of eight days of intense fighting between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen. Israeli forces say that at least some civilians were buried alive when their homes were knocked down on top of them.
A government official said later that members of a U.N. panel named to explore what happened in Jenin would not be allowed to enter Israel until differences with the world body had been worked out.
Mr. Annan had named Martti Ahtisaari, a former president of Finland, to lead the team, which also included Cornelio Sommaruga, former president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Sadako Ogata, the former U.N. high commissioner for refugees.
An American official told Reuters news agency that the Bush administration, which sponsored the U.N. resolution last week that authorized the investigation, continued to support the probe.
In his speech, Mr. Sharon tied America's fate to that of Israel.
"Being the only true democracy in the Middle East, Israel stands at the forefront of the conflict between the civilized world and the forces of evil," he said.
President Bush, after meeting with Moroccan King Mohammed VI at the White House yesterday, called for the Palestinians to end the violence and for Israel to pull back its troops.

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