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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 October, 2004, 15:34 GMT 16:34 UK
Sharon plan 'blocked peace talks'
Israeli settlement activists
Widespread opposition remains to the Gaza settlement evacuation
A top Israeli official has claimed that Ariel Sharon's Gaza withdrawal plan was deliberately formulated to block peace negotiations with Yasser Arafat.

"The significance of the plan is the freezing of the peace process," Dov Weisglass told Haaretz newspaper, adding the US had given its backing.

Palestinian statehood, refugees and the status of Jerusalem had effectively been dropped off the agenda, he said.

But he later added Israel was open to talks with other Palestinian leaders.

Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda
Dov Weisglass

Correspondents say the comments are the most far-reaching yet on Prime Minister Sharon's policies towards the Palestinians.

The statement may be designed to court Israeli hardliners who have not backed the Gaza plan, they suggest.

Mr Sharon voiced renewed support for the US-backed peace plan known as the roadmap after Haaretz published Mr Weisglass' comments.

It was "the only plan liable to help progress towards a viable political agreement", a brief statement from his office said, adding that the Palestinian violence should be blamed for any freeze.


Mr Weisglass was one of the Gaza plan's architects as the prime minister's former chief of staff and he is now his point man in the US.

Speaking after the controversial interview was published, he said there had been no intention to freeze the "political process as such".

"But there was definitely an intention not to hold a political process with the PNA [Palestinian National Authority] in its present state," he told Israeli radio.

In his interview for Haaretz, he described disengagement from Gaza as "formaldehyde".

"It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians," he said.

Israel is planning to pull all its settlers out of Gaza and the troops that protect them as part of its plan but it will maintain control of Gaza's borders, coastline and airspace. Four West Bank settlements are also to be evacuated.

Mr Weisglass boasted that he had in effect secured US approval "that part of the settlements would not be dealt with at all".

"The rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns," he joked.


In the Haaretz interview, Mr Weisglass makes it clear that the disengagement plan derived from a sense of impending crisis about 12 months ago.

Palestinian shepherd near Maale Adumin settlement
Some settlements will be dealt with "when Palestinians become Finns"
With Israel's economy stagnant and the rival Geneva Initiative being touted by Mr Sharon's political opponents, Mr Weisglass said the refusal by some servicemen and women to fight in the occupied territories was seen as the last straw.

"These were not weird kids with green ponytails and a ring in their nose with a strong odour of grass. These were... really our finest young people," he said.

So the Sharon government felt the need to clasp the initiative.

"Although by the way the Americans read the situation, the blame fell on the Palestinians not on us, [Mr Sharon] grasped that this state of affairs could not last, that [the Palestinians] wouldn't leave us alone, wouldn't get off our case."

Removed indefinitely

The present state of affairs, Mr Weisglass suggests, is much more satisfactory for Mr Sharon and government:

Can Israel expect to stop diplomatic processes around the world? We should not delude ourselves
Labour leader Shimon Peres
"When you freeze [the peace] process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the [Palestinian] refugees, the borders and Jerusalem.

"Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda.

"And all this with authority and permission. All with a [US] presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress."

There has been no comment on the interview from the US embassy in Tel Aviv. Washington is a sponsor of the roadmap plan which foresees the creation of a Palestinian state that can live in peace next to Israel.

Israeli opposition leader Shimon Peres has responded by saying that the "stalling games" outlined by Mr Weisglass are sure to backfire.

"Can Israel expect to stop diplomatic processes around the world? We should not delude ourselves. Until we have peace we [cannot expect] calm and security," he said.

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat described it as "very obvious" that Mr Sharon's policies were designed to undermine a negotiated Middle East peace settlement.

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