Tuesday, May 24, 2005


Mixing conciliation with tough talk, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pledged yesterday to cooperate with Mahmoud Abbas but said the Palestinian leader’s statements criticizing violence as a political tool “must be translated into real action on the ground.”

Mr. Sharon mixed tough statements with others that suggested compromise during a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group.

He said, for example, that Israel would not accept Palestinian refugees, that it would retain an undivided Jerusalem as its eternal capital, and that Israeli Jews would remain on the West Bank. He referred to the contested land as Judea and Samaria, as in the Hebrew Bible.

On the other hand, he said when he returns to Israel he will seek the release of 400 Palestinian prisoners, on top of 500 already set free. He also said the U.S.-backed “road map” was the only workable plan for peacemaking, and he had friendly things to say about Mr. Abbas, who meets with President Bush tomorrow at the White House.

“We see a great opportunity in the election of Abbas” as Yasser Arafat’s successor, Mr. Sharon said. “We will do our utmost to cooperate with the new Palestinian leadership.”

But the dominant theme in his speech was that security was Israel’s “red line,” and that he would make no move that jeopardized it. “There is one thing that we will not make any compromise, not now and not in the future, and that is Israel’s security,” he said.

Noting Mr. Abbas has spoken out against terror attacks on Israel, which are in sharp decline but have not ended, Mr. Sharon said, “His statements must be translated into real action.”

On the other hand, the prime minister said, “We are willing to help Abbas as much as we can, so long as we do not risk Israel’s security.”

Mr. Bush was not in the audience, and Mr. Sharon’s three-day unofficial trip focuses on ties with American Jews and involves no scheduled meetings with U.S. government officials or Mr. Abbas.

But much of what Mr. Sharon said seemed intended to guide the president in his Mideast policy-making and especially in his talks with Mr. Abbas.

Mr. Sharon, a tough-minded retired general who broke with many Likud Party hard-liners by deciding to withdraw from Gaza, signaled that violence that jeopardized Israel’s security would severely limit the possibility of other concessions.

He also indicated he is in no hurry to reach a final accord with the Palestinians, who at a minimum lay claim to all of the West Bank, and part of Jerusalem, as well as Gaza.

“Full peace only will be realized after full security is achieved and terror is eliminated,” he said.

Outside the massive Washington Convention Center, diverse groups demonstrated and held up placards. They ranged widely in opinion, including “Hamas, Abbas Makes No Difference,” “Israel Does Not Represent World Jewry” and “Leaving Gaza Creates a Terrorist State.”

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