ofra settlement 298 AJ.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The road map itself is revolutionary in that it replaced the time-worn - but failed - concept of land for peace with another formula: independence for security, Eyal Arad, a top Sharon political strategist, said on Tuesday.
Arad, who addressed the foreign press in Jerusalem on the topic of "Where is Ariel Sharon heading?", said that if the sides abided by the stages of the road map, then the Palestinians would ultimately gain an independent state, and Israel would get security.
Arad termed land-for-peace a "naive proposal," which erroneously presupposed that the root of the conflict was the occupation of the territories, and that if the occupation would only end, then peace would follow. This has proven "false philosophically, and naive politically," he said, pointing out that the Oslo process, which was based on the land-for-peace formula, was followed by the worst terror the country ever faced.
After the press conference, Arad told The Jerusalem Post that Sharon will not - before the upcoming elections - define which settlements he envisions as part of the settlement blocs.
Sharon, during his press conference Monday night explaining his decision to leave the Likud and form a new party titled National Responsibility, spoke of Israel ultimately holding on to major settlement blocs and security zones.
As is his practice, however, he did not delineate those areas. This ambiguity has led to frequent questions as to whether settlements such as Beit El and Ofra, among others, were in Sharon's mind part of the major settlement blocs.
Arad did not give any indication that this question would be cleared up before the elections, saying instead that it would be a mistake to detail these areas since this could possibly compromise Israel's negotiating position.
At the same time, Finance Minister Ehud Olmert, a close Sharon confidant, told Army Radio that Sharon wanted "to continue a policy that will bring about the permanent borders of Israel."
He said, "We are talking about the desire to define the permanent borders of Israel in the framework of an agreement that is based on the... road map."
Olmert said he had an "hour-and-a-half meeting with a very senior Palestinian personality, one of the most important people in the Palestinian Authority" on Tuesday. Without identifying the official, Olmert said "we are making efforts to create momentum, to create a better understanding to persuade them to fight terror."
Arad made clear during his briefing that even though Sharon was splitting from the Likud, a step he described as something that would likely "revolutionize the Israeli political structure," the prime minister would not promote any new diplomatic plan, but rather would stick with the road map. New plans were not always good, Arad said, dashing expectations that Sharon would welcome or put forward any new diplomatic initiative. He said that the road map had not yet been given a real chance to succeed.
Arad stressed, as his boss always does, that the condition for moving forward along the road map was Palestinian action to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure. "The road map postulates total dismantling of all terrorist apparatus," Arad said. "The time for overlooking Palestinian violations is over."
Arad said Sharon's acceptance of the road map - and its vision of a two-state solution - caused an ideological revolution inside the Likud, which long dreamt of Greater Israel. Once the road map was accepted, he said, a split inside the Likud became unavoidable and was a "natural and logical outgrowth" of Sharon's acceptance of the idea of a Palestinian state.
Although buoyed by Tuesday's surveys indicating that Sharon would outpoll both Labor and Likud if the elections were held today, Arad still refused to get into the question of which party was Sharon's preferred coalition partner.
Arad said Sharon had always favored national unity governments, and that any party would be welcome in a Sharon-led coalition as long as it wanted to implement the road map and agreed with the prime minister's domestic platform.
Regarding the possibility that Shimon Peres would join Sharon's new party, Arad said this was "a possibility" but that he was "not qualified" to discuss this either on Sharon or Peres's behalf.
In a related development, the Prime Minister's Office said that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called Sharon Tuesday to wish him well in his new political venture. According to Sharon's office, Mubarak said he was interested in continuing his close working relationship with Sharon.
According to Sharon's office, Spanish King Juan Carlos also phoned Sharon Tuesday to ask him to attend the gathering in Spain next week marking the 10th anniversary of the Barcelona Conference.
The Spanish monarch said many European and Arab leaders - such as Mubarak, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali - would attend, and said Sharon's participation "would be very important for advancing relations between Israel and Arab countries." Sharon, according to his office, thanked the King but declined, citing the "the domestic political situation" as the reason.
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom is scheduled to attend instead.
The Barcelona Conference in 1995 launched the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, or Barcelona Process, which is a framework of political, economic and social relations between the EU and countries on the Southern Mediterranean. It is unique in that Israel takes part in the meetings of this forum alongside Syria, Algeria and Lebanon. Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and the Palestinian Authority are also involved.