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Last Updated: Friday, 19 December, 2003, 14:48 GMT
Q&A: Israel's roadmap ultimatum
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
The Israeli leader's plan for separation is not backed by the US
BBC Middle East analyst Roger Hardy looks at the issues surrounding the drive to implement the peace plan known as the roadmap and the Israeli Government's deadline to the Palestinians.

What is the plan?

Mr Sharon has given the Palestinians a few months (there is no specific deadline) to stop the violence and start implementing the roadmap.

If they fail to do so, Israel will go for unilateral separation from the Palestinians.

It will draw "provisional security lines" and "relocate" some settlements (Mr Sharon declined to say which ones).

His message is: "Negotiate now and get more, or we'll take unilateral steps and you'll end up with less."

In short, an ultimatum.

Who in Israel backs the plan and why?

The idea of unilateral separation is popular in Israel, on both left and right.

In addition, some Israelis (it is hard to know exactly how many) will think Mr Sharon has come up with a clever way of squeezing the Palestinian leadership.

He is hoping Israelis will see his plan as a no-lose option - either the Palestinians will negotiate under duress and he will drive a hard bargain, or Israel will pull up the drawbridge and withdraw to more easily defensible positions.

Who has come out against the plan?

Israeli settlers and some within Mr Sharon's right-wing Likud party are crying "betrayal".

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (r) speaks to Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (l)
Palestinian leaders say Israel is trying to tear up the roadmap
The Palestinian leadership senses a trap.

And Palestinian militant groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, dismiss the plan out of hand.

What is Washington's reaction?

Washington is ambivalent.

If the Sharon plan turns out to be a clever way to kick-start the roadmap, all well and good.

But if Israel goes ahead with unilateral separation, the Americans know this will be seen as an imposed solution - which will be rejected by the Palestinians and the wider Arab and Muslim world.

America's Middle East policy is focused on Iraq; officials don't want the renewal of serious violence on the Israeli- Palestinian front.

Why has he come up with this plan now?

Everyone else had a peace plan, and Ariel Sharon had none.

That at least was the perception in Israel, and Israelis were showing signs of disenchantment with a prime minister whose tough approach they had previously backed.

Washington, too, wants to see some movement after many months of deadlock.

Now that there is a new Palestinian Prime Minister, Ahmed Qurei, US officials do not want to see him suffer the same fate as his predecessor, Mahmoud Abbas, who resigned after failing to make a mark.

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