- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 25, 2003

JERUSALEM — A remark by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon proposing “unilateral” steps to dismantle some Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories has provoked a backlash by hard-liners in parliament, who accuse Mr. Sharon of betraying his people.

While Mr. Sharon did not elaborate on his weekend statement, there were widespread reports in the Israeli press that Jewish settlements on the far side of Israel’s West Bank fence or those deemed difficult to defend would be evacuated.

Mr. Sharon was quoted by the Ma’ariv daily as telling lawmakers from his Likud Party on Monday that “there is no other choice … to painful concessions.”

“We must not keep 31/2 million Arabs under us. Let it be clear: We will not be in all the places we are now. That is the situation. We have to understand it,” Mr. Sharon reportedly said.

The Likud members of the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, had demanded a meeting with Mr. Sharon after his reported remarks.

“Anyone who wants to evacuate settlements does not belong in the Likud,” said Knesset member Michael Ratzon.

Mr. Sharon attempted at first to mollify the hard-line parliamentarians by saying that journalists who reported his remarks were writing more than they knew.

“I said one phrase, that I don’t rule out unilateral moves. No need to get excited. Nothing has happened yet,” he said.

The lawmakers, however, refused to be mollified.

“This is a basic change in the Likud’s position,” said Gilad Erdan. “Perhaps our place is not here, or perhaps someone else’s place is not here.”

Mr. Sharon’s aides have noted that evacuation of isolated settlements would ease security demands and would also boost Israel’s international standing.

Such unilateral action, however, implies that Israel would be drawing its own borders without reference to the Palestinians.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, responding to Mr. Sharon’s statement about unilateral Israeli steps, said that such steps would have significance “only if they constitute part of the implementation of the road map.”

The Palestinian Authority would enforce a cease-fire, he said, only if Israel dismantled the West Bank security fence it has built, freed Palestinian prisoners and lifted the siege of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

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