Ariel Sharon's closest lieutenant has caused political and diplomatic shockwaves by warning that disengagement from Gaza would "freeze" the peace process, and a Palestinian state was no longer on Israel's agenda.
Dov Weisglass, the Israeli Prime Minister's most senior adviser, issued an astonishingly blunt declaration that the plan to withdraw 7,500 settlers was the "formaldehyde" necessary to ensure "there will not be a political process with the Palestinians".
Mr Weisglass, one of the main architects of the plan, said in an interview appearing in Haaretz tomorrow: "The significance of the disengagement is the freezing of the peace process. When you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the [Palestinian] refugees, the borders and [the status of] Jerusalem."
Shimon Peres, the veteran centrist leader of the Labour opposition who drew up the Oslo accords with the Palestinian leadership but has been highly valued by the Prime Minister as a staunch supporter of the disengagement plan, said Mr Sharon had never told him it was meant to freeze the peace process. In a laconic verdict on Mr Weisglass's interview Mr Peres warned: "He who seeks half-peace will bring half-war."
The language used by Mr Weisglass can hardly fail to embarrass even a US President as friendly to Israel as George Bush, who remains at least theoretically committed to the "road-map" towards a solution in which an Israeli and full Palestinian state would live side by side. Mr Weisglass said: "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 Arab Israeli Knesset member Ahmed Tibi has written to Dan Kurtzer, the US ambassador to Israel, asking if the US administration "is a partner to Sharon's political deceit, which Weisglass revealed with incriminating candour".
Later, a "clarification" from the Prime Minister's office repeated that he remained committed to the "road-map" but lacked a Palestinian partner to take it forward. Mr Sharon's advisers have indicated the withdrawal from Gaza and four small settlements in the northern West Bank could be followed by evacuations of other West Bank settlements. But Mr Weisglass said the disengagement plan was "a serious move because of which, out of 240,000 settlers, 190,000 will not be moved from their place".
In Gaza yesterday, three Palestinian civilians were killed in strikes in the northern section. And three Palestinian gunmen killed a Thai guest worker yesterday after infiltrating a Jewish settlement. The gunmen were shot dead.
In Beit Lahia, nine Palestinian children, including a baby, were wounded when a missile hit a house and a 15-year-old boy, Abdullah Kahman, was killed when a shell hit his house. And a 50-year-old man, Hamad Obaid, and his son, Hamoud, were killed in another house in the north of the Jabaliya refugee camp.
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