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Sharon rejects new peace plan
10 June 2002
Ariel Sharon, who holds his sixth meeting as Prime Minister of Israel with President George Bush today, expressly ruled out the key terms of the latest peace plan for the Middle East.
In an article published in The New York Times yesterday, Mr Sharon said Israel would not withdraw from the occupied territories to the pre-1967 lines, and insisted on an end to Palestinian violence as a precondition for political progress.
He also hinted at a new condition by saying that Israel cannot reach a permanent peace with the Palestinians in isolation, but "needs peace with the entire Arab world".
Mr Sharon's article confirmed the yawning gap between Israel's position and that of the Palestinians, who demand a total end to the 35-year Israeli occupation, which means an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
The Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat sought to cash in on Mr Sharon's apparent intransigence by announcing a cabinet reshuffle yesterday, made in response to American and domestic pressure to reform his half-collapsed government.
The changes included the appointment of a 73-year-old former guerrilla commander with the Palestinian Liberation Army, Abdel Razak Yehiyeh, as interior minister.
The reshuffle fell far short of Mr Sharon's desires. He is insisting on a thorough overhaul of the Palestinian Authority and its security services as a condition for political progress in negotiations, but his chief aim is to get rid of, or at least marginalise, Mr Arafat. The latter possibility seems certain to be discussed in the White House today.
Mr Sharon's article ruled out the terms of the proposals put forward by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Adullah which calls for Israel to withdraw fully to the 1967 lines, allowing for the creation of a Palestinian state in return for a full normalisation in relations with all Arab states.
The fate of a Middle East conference, proposed in different forms by Israel and the US administration, could be decided during this long weekend of diplomacy in which Mr Sharon follows the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to Washington. When the talking is finished, Mr Bush is due publicly to set out how he sees the way forward.
Phil Reeves and Rupert Cornwell