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Claiming that US President George W. Bush's road map peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians had "expired," Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that the new diplomatic plan formulated by him and Defense Minister Amir Peretz could restart the peace process and within a year "create a new reality."
On Monday, Peretz and Sneh unveiled to the Labor faction their three-stage diplomatic plan called "the new road map," which calls for skipping the stages of the quartet's road map and finalizing a permanent-status agreement with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Peretz and Sneh said the plan was a combination of the road map and the Saudi initiative.
While the diplomatic plan was not coordinated with the US, Sneh told the Post that Washington would be informed of the "newly-improved and modified road map" if it was approved by the Israeli government.
Peretz called Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to outline the plan before he left for China.
Sneh said the plan was influenced and based in part on the work being done in Israel by US security envoy Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton, who has raised funds that will be used to beef up and train Abbas's Presidential Guard.
"Dayton's work makes this plan realistic," Sneh said.
The first six-month stage of the plan calls for "stabilizing the military and economy in the PA" through the financial support of Abbas and security forces loyal to him and releasing security prisoners in return for kidnapped Cpl. Gilad Shalit. It also calls for Israel to evacuate illegal outposts. Since taking office last May, Peretz has repeatedly declared his intention to evacuate outposts but has failed to act.
The second six-month stage of the plan calls for the release of additional prisoners, easing restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank and the transfer of West Bank territory currently denoted as Area B to Area A, which is under full Palestinian control. Negotiations would be held with Abbas or another responsible Palestinian leader and a summit with moderate Arab countries would be held.
"The idea is to engulf the axis of moderates in the PA based on the Saudi plan and the road map," Sneh said.
In the third stage, Israel would finalize the agreement in negotiations with the Palestinians.
"It's clear to everyone that there is a diplomatic stalemate and this is the way out of it," Peretz told the faction. "It's true the Saudi plan is based on 1967 borders, but we are not talking about conceding on settlement blocs. We need to give the Palestinians a diplomatic horizon and the capacity to overcome anarchy."
Peretz said the strengthening of moderate Palestinians should be done at the same time as dismantling terrorist organizations, and the latter should not be a precondition for the former, as it is in the road map.
Unlike a report published Monday, the plan refers only to the Palestinian issue and not to Syria or Lebanon. But Peretz said in the faction meeting that "the Syrian option must be tested seriously."
Peretz's rivals for the Labor leadership called the plan an act of desperation for a lame duck Labor leader. They said there was no chance of the plan getting accepted or implemented because of Peretz's poor relationship with Olmert.
MK Ophir Paz-Pines praised Peretz for issuing a plan that he said was "better late than never." He said he was "glad that the Labor race yielded diplomatic plans and not just crates full of new Labor membership forms."
But Paz-Pines criticized Peretz for calling for removing outposts when he himself is currently in charge of removing outposts but has not done so.
"We promised to remove outposts, we controlled the Defense Ministry and we didn't keep our promise," Paz-Pines said.
MK Danny Yatom said the plan was solely intended for political purposes and that no diplomatic plan could be implemented as long as Hamas was in power in the Palestinian Authority.
MK Ami Ayalon called the plan "a failure from the start." He said he preferred Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's plan, because the stages in her plan were not dependent on an end to Palestinian violence.
Former prime minister Ehud Barak declined to respond to the plan, which will be advanced in the next meeting of the Labor executive committee.
Meretz leader Yossi Beilin said Peretz's plan was reasonable but problematic because even though the foreign minister and defense minister have diplomatic plans, neither of them believe their plan will be implemented despite both being in positions of power.
Likud faction chairman Gideon Sa'ar said he was amused by the fact that Peretz presented the plan the same day that Olmert left for China on an important diplomatic mission. He said the multiple plans from cabinet ministers proved that the government had no real policy and no real ideology.
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