Tags: Sharon's | New | Party | Favors | Palestinian | Statehood

Sharon's New Party Favors Palestinian Statehood

Monday, 26 December 2005 12:00 AM

JERUSALEM -- Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's new centrist party on Monday declared Palestinian statehood as a central goal, and Israel signaled it would drop a threat to ban Jerusalem's Palestinians from voting in their parliamentary election.

The signs of a moderate line for present and future political moves were tempered, however, by an announcement of new Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank.

The latest building, disclosed in newspaper ads published Monday seeking bids from contractors, would violate Israel's commitments under the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan.

The plans include 228 homes in the settlements of Beitar Illit and Efrat _ both near Jerusalem.

Sharon aide Raanan Gissin said plans for the latest construction began more than five years ago. He said the construction would be in settlements that Israel plans to retain after a final peace settlement with the Palestinians.

"These are the large settlement blocs; they will be strengthened," he said.

The road map calls for a freeze on all settlement construction in the West Bank, which the Palestinians claim as part of a future state. Since accepting the plan in June 2003, Israel has continued to expand settlements. The Palestinians also have not carried out their initial road map obligation to disarm militant groups.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned the expansion and urged the U.S. to intervene. U.S. Embassy spokesmen in Israel were not available for comment.

The settlement plans came as Sharon's new political party, Kadima, signaled it is ready to hand over more West Bank territory to the Palestinians and work toward an independent Palestinian state after Israeli elections March 28. Opinion polls forecast a strong victory by Sharon's bloc.

On Monday, doctors disclosed that Sharon, 77, will have to undergo a procedure to close a tiny hole in his heart. The announcement that the defect led to the mild stroke he suffered Dec. 18 drew further attention in the election campaign to Sharon's health.

Sharon left the hard-line Likud Party last month to form Kadima, saying he would have more freedom to negotiate a peace deal. Many Likud members remain furious with Sharon over his withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank in September.

A draft of Kadima's election platform published Monday called for conceding more land to the Palestinians as part of peace talks culminating in a Palestinian state. The talks would be based on the road map, which endorses a Palestinian state but says its borders must be reached through negotiations.

"The basic tenet of the peace process is two national states," says the platform. Party spokesman Lior Chorev said the draft, detailed in the daily newspaper Maariv, was to be approved by next week.

The Kadima platform says Israel's existence "requires giving up part of the Land of Israel." For decades before the Gaza pullout, Sharon was the main advocate of building settlements and keeping the West Bank and Gaza.

With the Gaza withdrawal, he became the first Israeli leader to turn over territory to the Palestinians. Since leaving the Likud, the former patron of the settlement movement has made it clear that giving up more land, including parts of the biblical Land of Israel in the West Bank, is necessary to maintain a Jewish majority in Israel. More than 2 million Palestinians live in the West Bank.

Also Monday, Israeli officials said the government may drop its opposition to allowing Palestinian residents of Jerusalem to vote in next month's Palestinian elections.

Israel threatened last week to bar voting in east Jerusalem since the Islamic group Hamas is participating, a warning that infuriated the Palestinians and led to threats to cancel the election and blame Israel.

Control of Jerusalem is one of the central disputes in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Separately, in Ramallah, a Palestinian court cleared the way Monday for the ruling Fatah Party to submit a single list of candidates for the parliamentary election, though registration officially closed Dec. 14. A poll published Monday showed Hamas would finish first, ahead of the two Fatah lists - the old guard and young leadership.

The two squabbling factions had already decided to reunite. Monday's decision cleared the way for them to enter a combined list.

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JERUSALEM -- Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's new centrist party on Monday declared Palestinian statehood as a central goal, and Israel signaled it would drop a threat to ban Jerusalem's Palestinians from voting in their parliamentary election. The signs of a moderate line...
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2005-00-26
Monday, 26 December 2005 12:00 AM
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