05-13-2003, 07:38 AM
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Join Date: Jun 2001
Local Time: 10:42 AM
It seems that the situation will not improve for some time. From the BBC website
Sharon rejects settlement talks
Prime Minister Sharon plays down settlement issue after meeting Colin Powell
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has declared that the question of Jewish settlements, one of the key issues in efforts to reach Middle East peace, is not up for imminent discussion.
Mr Sharon, speaking to the Jerusalem Post, said all Israeli governments had gone ahead with settlements in some form, even during periods of peace diplomacy, and that the issue was therefore "not on the horizon".
He also said in an address to party members that he would not be put under pressure when he visits Washington to discuss a US-sponsored "roadmap" to peace, which specifically calls for Israel to stop expanding settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.
"We are not travelling to a place where there are pressures," he said. "We are going to a place with which we have a special kind of relationship."
His comments have raised questions about what was achieved by US Secretary of State Colin Powell when he met Mr Sharon on his current tour of the region to promote the peace plan.
Mr Powell has arrived in Saudi Arabia from Jordan, where he insisted at a press conference that the US would not "rewrite" the international roadmap for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Can attacks be stopped?
The peace plan calls for a series of mutual confidence-building steps under which the Palestinian Authority would move against militants targeting Israelis, in return for an end to settlements.
In Cairo on Monday, Mr Powell tried to overcome Arab scepticism about Israel's intentions, with assurances that Prime Minister Sharon had begun implementing peace proposals.
Referring to the Israeli decision to release dozens of prisoners, remove some travel restrictions and transfer funds to the Palestinians, Mr Powell said actions were what mattered in Israel's approach to the blueprint.
He downplayed Israel's refuse to "accept" the plan explicitly.
The release of Palestinian prisoners on Sunday, was soon followed by one of the most comprehensive closures of the Gaza Strip in years.
As part of the closure, all foreigners except diplomats were barred from entering or leaving Gaza, although these restrictions were later eased during the day, the Associated Press reported.
Mr Powell's Egyptian hosts were clearly disappointed at his apparent failure to secure an official endorsement of the roadmap from Israel, the BBC's Heba Saleh in Cairo says.
Egypt's foreign minister, Ahmed Maher, criticised Israel for failing to accept the plan unequivocally, and disagreed publicly with Mr Powell in a joint press conference.
Egypt is frustrated by what it regards as America's readiness to put pressure on the Palestinians but not on Israel, our correspondent says.
Egypt fears that without Israeli concessions the roadmap will quickly fall apart, she adds.
Mr Maher also spurned US efforts to persuade its allies to sideline Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and deal solely with new Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas - also known as Abu Mazen.
"Arafat is the elected leader of the Palestinian people. We will continue to do business with both of them," he said.
Reports in the Israeli media suggest that Mr Sharon and Abu Mazen could meet by the end of the week, and that secret high-level security talks between the two sides have already begun, but these have not been confirmed.
Apparently, the new Palestinian prime minister Abu Mazen has accepted the roadmap unconditionally, but this report suggest that Sharon rejects it. Or at least, that he rejects some Israeli concessions for it.