U.S. Asks Israel to Clarify Comments Made by Top PM Aide

Dov Weisglass to Haaretz: Gaza plan meant to freeze peace process, prevent Palestinian state; PM Sharon says is sticking to road map.

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The United States on Wednesday evening asked Israel to clarify statements made by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's senior advisor, Dov Weisglass, in an interview with Haaretz that the disengagement plan means a "freezing of the peace process," Israel Radio reported.

"The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process," Weisglass, one of the initiators of the disengagement plan, said in an interview for the Haaretz Friday Magazine.

"And when you freeze that process," Weisglass added, "you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the 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 presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress."

"The disengagement is actually formaldehyde," he said. "It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians." (The full interview will appear on Friday.)

State Department Spokesman Adam Ereli, speaking in Washington, said the U.S. told Israel that Weisglass' comments do not match Israel's official government position as presented to the U.S.

But Ereli also said Israel informed the American administration Sharon remains committed to the road map peace plan and to President George Bush's vision of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Following the publication of parts of the Weisglass interview in Haaretz, Sharon's bureau released a statement saying he supports the road map and sees it as the only plan for allowing a final-status agreement.

Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters while visiting Grenada the U.S. does not doubt Sharon's commitment to the road map.

A senior State Department official in Washington also said the administration was very satisfied with clarifications of Weisglass' comments made by the Prime Minister's bureau.

Left slams comments Lawmakers from the Israeli left responded furiously to Weisglass' comments.

Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres said Sharon had never told him that the disengagement plan was meant to freeze the peace process.

"He who seeks half-peace will bring half-war," Peres said Wednesday.

In the wake of the comments, Hadash MK Ahmed Tibi sent a letter to U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer questioning whether "the American administration is a partner to Sharon's political deceit, which Weisglass revealed with incriminating candor."

Tibi said that Weisglass' comments "bolster what we have said all along, that the [disengagement] plan is a 'Sharon bluff'."

Yahad MK Yossi Beilin said Weisglass' "frightening comments" were uttered in a rare moment of truth, and show Sharon's real, dangerous intentions.

The remarks "reveal the fact that it is Sharon who is not a partner for peace, and the peace camp must work for him to be overthrown," said Beilin.

Hadash MK Mohammed Barakeh called the statements grave, saying they prove that the Sharon government must be toppled as soon as possible.

These comments, Barakeh said, affirm the importance of refusing to serve in the IDF and the relevance of the Geneva Initiative, a peace plan co-authored by Beilin and former Palestinian minister Yasser Abed Rabbo.

National Union MK Zvi Hendel said that Weisglass' comments stem from political considerations, namely to appease the right for the short term.

Asked why the disengagement plan had been hatched, Weisglass said: "Because in the fall of 2003 we understood that everything was stuck. And although by the way the Americans read the situation, the blame fell on the Palestinians, not on us, Arik [Sharon] grasped that this state of affairs could not last, that they wouldn't leave us alone, wouldn't get off our case. Time was not on our side. There was international erosion, internal erosion. Domestically, in the meantime, everything was collapsing. The economy was stagnant, and the Geneva Initiative had gained broad support.

"And then we were hit with the letters of officers and letters of pilots and letters of commandos [refusing to serve in the territories]. These were not weird kids with green ponytails and a ring in their nose with a strong odor of grass. These were people like Spector's group [Yiftah Spector, a renowned Air Force pilot who signed the pilot's letter]. Really our finest young people."

Weisglass does not deny that the main achievement of the Gaza plan is the freezing of the peace process in a "legitimate manner."

"That is exactly what happened," he said. "You know, the term `peace process' is a bundle of concepts and commitments. The peace process is the establishment of a Palestinian state with all the security risks that entails. The peace process is the evacuation of settlements, it's the return of refugees, it's the partition of Jerusalem. And all that has now been frozen.... what I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns. That is the significance of what we did."

Sharon, he said, could also argue "honestly" that the disengagement plan was "a serious move because of which, out of 240,000 settlers, 190,000 will not be moved from their place."



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