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Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Sharon: Maale Adumim, Gush Etzion, Ariel and Hebron "will remain in Israeli control and will continue to be strengthened and developed"

"Disengagement allows us a free hand to act against terror"

israelinsider: Speaking on the eve of his departure for talks in Washington on the disengagement plan, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon detailed last night for the first time his intentions to strengthen the settlement blocs of Maale Adumim, Gush Etzion, Ariel, Givat Ze'ev, Kiryat Arba and Hebron.

Ariel, population 16,500 (2003), founded 1978

"Only an Israeli initiative will assure the future of the large settlement blocs and the security zones," Sharon said during a visit to Maale Adumim to mark the Mimouna festivities.

Sharon's remarks came at the head of his campaign to convince the public, and in particular the rank and file members of his Likud Party, to support the plan for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Sharon hopes statements of support issued by U.S. President George W. Bush and other American officials will help persuade Likud members, who will vote in a referendum on the plan on April 29, to back the plan.

"To our dismay, there is no leadership on the Palestinian side that is willing to fight terror, as it is committed (in the road map peace initiative)," Sharon said. The diplomatic process is in a "frozen state, and in light of the many dangerous plans that are sprouting like mushrooms after the rain, including the Geneva and Saudi plans, I reached a conclusion that we need a different plan, a plan of disengagement," Sharon said.

The disengagement plan calls for the evacuation of the Jewish settlements of the Gaza Strip and four settlements in the northern West Bank, but according to Sharon, it would strengthen the largest settlement blocs and security areas. "Places like a strong Maale Adumim, a strong Ariel, a strong Givat Ze'ev, a strong Gush Etzion. I would add a strong Jewish community of Hebron and a strong Kiryat Arba. These places will remain in Israeli control and will continue to be strengthened and developed," Sharon said.

"Only support for the disengagement plan will allow us to continue to manage a relentless battle against terror," Sharon said. "Disengagement allows us a free hand to act against terror."

Sharon also said for the first time that he would make sure that Maale Adumim would be included inside the security fence built around Jerusalem, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Sharon's bureau chief attorney Dov Weisglass, National Security Adviser Giora Eiland, and foreign policy adviser Shalom Turjeman have been in Washington consulting with their American counterparts on the final wording of American statements in support of the disengagement plan.

The Israeli team had originally hoped that the U.S. would recognize continued Israeli sovereignty over the large settlement blocs. In the end, however, it is likely that the Americans will state that the determination of borders in a final status accord between Israel and the Palestinians will take into consideration "demographic realities" on the ground, which would be considered a nod to the settlements mentioned by Sharon in his speech.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala) responded to Sharon's statements by saying any Israeli intention to retain and develop West Bank settlement blocs "could ruin the entire peace process." Abu Ala said, "We will not accept settlement blocs or any decision to which the Palestinians are not partner."