Israel and Hamas united on ditching road map

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The Independent Online

Kadima and Hamas, the ruling parties of Israel and Palestine, united at the weekend in burying the international road map, the blueprint for peace that was previously endorsed by the governments of Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat.

Since Hamas won the Palestinian election and refused to recognise the Jewish state, renounce violence or accept previous agreements, Ehud Olmert, Israel's acting Prime Minister, is no longer even paying lip service to the road map presented by the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia.

Instead, Kadima is drafting a four-year plan to evacuate at least 17 outlying West Bank settlements. If, as the polls suggest, it wins the general election on 28 March, it will unilaterally draw a new border that will keep major settlement blocks under Israeli rule.

In Moscow on Saturday, Khaled Meshal, the exiled head of Hamas's political bureau, rejected a Russian request to accept international terms for a dialogue. Although Hamas is floating the possibility of an extended ceasefire, its long-term objective remains an Islamic state from the Jordan to the Mediterranean. "We believe that Israel has no right to exist," said Mr Meshal, the target of a failed Israeli assassination attempt in Amman in 1997.

If Israel wanted peace, he maintained, it would have to agree first to withdraw to the 1967 borders, release all Palestinian prisoners and acknowledge the refugees' right to return to their old homes inside what is now Israel. No Israeli government, left or right, has been prepared to take that as a starting point for negotiations. Mahmoud Zahar, a Gaza Hamas leader, said yesterday: "Our tie to Israel is that of a nation and its occupiers. It is not going to be in any way a relationship based on legitimate neighbours, or partners, or allies."

Israel takes them at their word. A government spokesman, Ra'anan Gissin, said: "The road map is based on two partners. If you don't have a partner on one side, it's frozen. Hamas state very clearly that they're not going to recognise Israel. That means we are not going to deal with the Hamas government and we are going to deal with those who foster terrorism in the same manner as we did before, regardless of whether they sit in the parliament or are outside the parliament."

Avi Dichter, tipped as a future Kadima defence minister, unveiled the most detailed version so far of the emerging programme. "Israel will have to define, by itself, its final borders," he told Israel Radio, "and that will involve the consolidation of smaller settlements into settlement blocks."

Unlike last summer's disengagement from the Gaza Strip, added Mr Dichter, a former director of the Shin Bet internal security service, it would be a purely civilian pullout. The Israeli army would stay in the evacuated Palestinian territories and maintain security control.

Earlier, in a campaign speech, he insisted: "The disengagement will be from the settlements, not the land. The stage of a full handover of the area will only take place after a Palestinian Authority arises that proves that it is willing and able to fight terror." Kadima officials are said to be thinking in terms of seven settlement blocks, close to the pre-1967 war border, but including Ma'aleh Adumim and Ariel, which project 10 miles into the West Bank, as well as the Jordan Valley to the east.

Some settlements earmarked for evacuation are among the most fanatical. They house about 16,000 of the 254,000 settlers. Benny Katzover, a militant settler leader, threatened to "stop this process with our bodies".