Fears for peace plan as Sharon rejects territorial concessions

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The Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has rejected the "false" concept of "territory for peace", which underpinned Israel's negotiating strategy with the Palestinians up to and including the failed Camp David talks in 2000, one of his top strategists said.

On the first day of Mr Sharon's new breakaway party Eyal Arad, a senior strategic adviser, said he had substituted the idea of "security for independence" as his approach to future talks with the Palestinians.

The startling assertion that Mr Sharon repudiates not only the Oslo accords but the concept of "land for peace" that underpinned them will fuel Palestinian fears that he is seeking to redraw the internationally agreed road map to peace, to which Mr Sharon insists he is committed.

It may also be taken as an implicit assurance to the right-wing supporters he seeks to lure away from Likud that Israel can retain much greater territory than that defined by its pre-1967 borders as long as the Palestinians get an independent sovereign state at the end of a process.

Mr Arad also - and in emphatic terms - echoed previous declarations by Mr Sharon himself, saying that such a process could not begin before "total dismantling of all terrorist apparatus" by the Palestinian leadership.

Mr Arad's remarks came as a series of instant polls on the Sharon breakaway showed him leading Israel's biggest party if the election happened today, with up to 33 seats. A Haaretz-Dialog survey showed his new party at 30 seats, with the Labour party under its new leader Amir Peretz at 26 and Likud, still to elect a leader, trailing at 15.

Although partly theoretical, Mr Arad's formulation will also be seen as being in tune with continued expansion of settlements and the routing of sections of the separation barrier inside the occupied West Bank, ahead of any negotiations with the Palestinians.

The road map, sponsored by the US, EU, Russia and the UN and agreed - subject to reservations - by Israel, says that a settlement should be based in part on "the principle of land for peace" and UN resolution 242, which requires the "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent [1967] conflict."

The road map also requires not that the Palestinian leadership actually completes "the dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure" but that it "begins sustained, targeted, and effective operations" aimed at doing so.

Mr Arad's remarks came during an explanation of how Mr Sharon differed both from the far-right Likud colleagues he deserted on Monday - in abandoning the "morally just dream" of a Greater Israel and accepting the need for a Palestinian state - and from those who support the basic strategy of the Oslo accords. Though Mr Arad did not say so, these include the new Labour leader Amir Peretz, something that might militate against the latter agreeing to a post-election coalition with Mr Sharon in the event that such an opportunity arises.

Mr Arad stressed he was not repudiating UN Resolution 242. Instead he said that the doctrine of "territory for peace" had proved "false philosophically and naïve politically" - through the onset of armed Palestinian attacks after Oslo and its subsequent failure when Yasser Arafat rejected terms offered at Camp David. Mr Arad insisted that what Palestinians sought was not really territories that they could control and run in the form of the Camp David proposal but independence, which the road map envisaged.