Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told a rowdy Likud convention full of protesters against the road map last night that most of the Israeli public were supportive of his peace efforts and that he bore the full responsibility for the road down which he was taking them. "The people have spoken and brought us to victory," said Sharon, amid boos that at one point stalled his comments. "They chose this path."

Speaking at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, Sharon said that he had made clear his position but during and ahead of the general election campaign in January 2003. "I went back over things time after time - in the Knesset and in the speech I gave in Herzliya on the night before the elections that was then included in the government guidelines," Sharon told activists. "There is no one who did not hear; there is no one who did not know."

The prime minister said he made clear to the Palestinians at the Aqaba summit that the solution to the Palestinian refugee problem would not come at the expense of the State of Israel, adding that he intended to keep his election promise and deliver peace and security. "We will proceed carefully and responsibly and we will face difficult challenges," Sharon said. But, he added, Israel would not accept the Palestinian demand for the right of return, nor would it waive its 14 reservations on the road map that were submitted to the U.S.

"The terror war that was started against us 1,000 days ago has failed. I tell you today that the victory we aimed for is at hand," Sharon said.

He reiterated his condition of an end to terror before Israel makes moves toward peace. "We will not give anything as long as the terror, violence and incitement continues," he said, adding, "But we will be prepared to make painful concessions, very painful concessions, for real peace and security."

He praised Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) for stating publicly that violence must end, charging that Yasser Arafat had led the Palestinians in a campaign of terror, but without mentioning the Palestinian Authority chairman's name.

"The terror regime of the Palestinians has been replaced by a new government that has stated before the whole world that it has abandoned the way of terror," Sharon said. "This is the first fruit of our victory."

Speaking before Sharon, his political rival Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the convention that the only solution to the conflict with the Palestinians was for them to have self-rule in a demilitarized area in the territories. Netanyahu said that Israel would not agree to the right of return for "even one Palestinian," and warned that a militarized Palestinian state would be a school for suicide bombers from around the world. Netanyahu abstained in the government vote that accepted the road map, attaching 14 reservations. He has consistently opposed any independent Palestinian state.

Minister without Portfolio Uzi Landau said that Sharon had "given in" to terrorism, and that the road map would increase the violence. His call on the Likud activists to oppose the road map was met with applause.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said that no political advancements could be made if the Palestinians did not fight terrorism. He stressed that Israel would not be satisfied with a cease-fire.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said that the peace process was accompanied by many fears and dangers, and that despite the heated public debate on the matter, it would not lead to a civil war. Shalom said that the Labor governments had failed because they conducted diplomatic talks rashly. "The Likud won't act this way," he said.