The results of upcoming Palestinian Authority elections will not affect Israel's plans to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and portions of the West Bank, since the move is unilateral, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Tuesday, responding to a remark by Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.
Shalom said on Monday that if Hamas won in PA parliamentary elections set for July 17, Israel should rethink its plans for a withdrawal.
In response to the criticism of his statement, Shalom told Israel Radio on Tuesday that a unilateral pullout "is not sacred. If the move is a suicidal act by the State of Israel it should not take place."
Predicting that Hamas would win a majority in the Palestinian parliament in the upcoming elections, Shalom said that: "It seems to me unreasonable to move forward with the implementation of the disengagement plan as if nothing had happened and hand over the territories only for Hamas to create there a 'Hamastan'."
"Hamas' pledge to destroy Israel is not a thing to be taken lightly. The territory must be handed over only to the PA under Fatah rule," the foreign minister added.
However, Mofaz said Israel is determined to withdraw from Gaza under any circumstances.
"The disengagement will not be canceled," Mofaz told Army Radio.
Asked to comment, Mofaz said: "I don't know what the results will be in Gaza (elections) .... Yes, Hamas has been strengthened, and we have a reality in which there is a Palestinian Authority and Palestinian terror organizations, but I think we need to make supreme efforts to carry out the disengagement. At the end of the day, it's good for Israel."
Meeting PA Interior Minster Nasser Yousef in Jerusalem, Shalom called on the PA to prevent Hamas' participation on the elections. "We should all delay the integration of Hamas in the political system. There is no room in a democratic society for a party carrying arms and dealing with terror against neighboring citizens."
Senior figures in the PA were outraged by Shalom's statement. Minister of Civil Affairs Mohammed Dahlan said that the statement was "a rude intervention in Palestinian internal affairs; his statement is of no interest to Palestinians since the disengagement is a unilateral move in any case."
Youssef said that Hamas' participation in the elections was of great importance and that the elections will be carried out in accordance with the Oslo agreements and the road map peace plan.
Earlier, Shalom warned ambassadors of European Union states against deliberating with Hamas, saying that such a move could lead to the collapse of he PA.
Sharon sets August pullout date
Also Monday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he has decided to postpone the withdrawal until the middle of August, in order not to conflict with a traditional Jewish mourning period. Sharon announced the delay in an interview with Channel One television.
The withdrawal will take place "immediately after the (Jewish mourning day) of Tisha Be'Av - on (August) 15, 17 or 16 - I don't want to commit myself to an exact date.," said the prime minister.
When asked when the areas slated for evacuation will be declared closed military zones, Sharon said "it depends a lot on when people, whose aim is to disrupt the disengagement, will start arriving in the area."
The pullout was originally set to begin in July 25, several days after the eviction orders signed by Sharon and Defense Minster Shaul Mofaz go into effect. But several days before Passover the PM said he leaned toward delaying the pullout to August 15, after Tish Be'av.
Sharon said he accepted the plea by Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar not to carry out the pullout during the period leading to the day of mourning when religious Jews refrain from moving house.
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