Maintain Political Momentum, Israeli Left Tells Sharon
July 7, 2008
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon must keep up his political momentum by entering negotiations with the Palestinians following the Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip if he hopes to retain the support of the Labor party and save his government, a Labor party minister said on Monday.
But the Palestinians must make a "dramatic" move to end terrorism if there is to be a return to the road map peace plan, the minister said.
Israel last week completed the eviction of some 9,000 Israelis from 25 communities in the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank as part of Sharon's government-approved disengagement plan - a move hailed as "courageous" by leaders around the world.
But he was able to do so only with the support of the leftwing Labor party after half of his own party and much of his government balked last year at the idea of giving up settlements and territory in a unilateral move.
Now that the disengagement is a done deal, the Labor party is making its own demands for continuing to support the Sharon government, said Interior Minister Ofir Pines Paz.
Sharon must keep up the political momentum toward the Palestinians and reopen discussions with the Labor party on the Israeli budget if he wants continued Labor support, Pines Paz told a meeting of foreign journalists in Jerusalem on Monday.
"There's a political momentum. We want to eat from the fruits of the disengagement -- the political fruits, security fruits and economic fruits. We do not want to spoil that," Pines Paz said. "We want to enjoy it and we understand that we have to keep the momentum and go forward."
If Sharon goes forward by evacuating unauthorized outposts as specified in the U.S.-backed road map peace plan, then the Labor party would be inclined to support him, Pines Paz said. But that support will come only if Sharon also reopens discussions on the Israeli budget, which most Labor parliamentarians voted against, he added.
"We need answers on both issues. One is not enough. I'm talking about the political issue and the economic issue," he said.
Sharon has said that there would not be any further "disengagements" -- unilateral, un-negotiated land handovers to the Palestinians. He also is demanding that the Palestinians dismantle terrorist organizations before Israel and the Palestinians re-enter the road map process.
Nevertheless, even if the Labor party sticks with Sharon, other parties such as Shinui, Meretz and the Arab parties (which provided Sharon with a "safety net" in Knesset votes, ensuring that the disengagement plan was carried out), could decide that they will no longer support him and the government could fall anyway, Pines Paz said.
Sharon is facing challenges to his leadership within his own Likud party. He alienated a large segment of his supporters after more than half of his party members voted against the disengagement plan in a party referendum last year. Sharon said that he would abide by the results of the party referendum but then carried out the disengagement anyway.
Some of Sharon's advisors are encouraging him to try to make up to the Likud party membership, while others say he should break from the Likud and create his own party.
Two unnamed Labor party Knesset members were quoted by the Jerusalem Post on Monday as saying that Sharon would be the best candidate to lead the Labor Party.
(Despite his fall from favor among members of his own party, Sharon is still believed to hold popular support in the country.)
In an editorial in the daily Ha'aretz on Monday, the writer suggested that the Labor party was better off to stay in the government. "Labor has nothing to offer the voter now other than continued support for Ariel Sharon's government," it said.
No progress without Palestinian change
Regardless of the Israeli internal political struggles, Pines Paz said that there would be no progress on the political front without a "dramatic" change in the Palestinians' behavior.
"We are not going to accept any kind of terror against Israel after the disengagement, no way," said Pines Paz. "I think that if Israel did what it did we are going to be very, very strict vis-a-vis implementing the road map on the first phase of fighting the terror organizations and terror activities from the other side.
"We made a major step from our point of view. We are willing to do more on the political level. We want to do it [based] on a concept of negotiating with the other side but we are not going to do it if we will have to face terror like we had to face yesterday in Beersheba," he said.
A suicide bomber blew himself up at the bus station in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba on Sunday morning during rush hour, severely injuring two security guards that tried to stop him.
The two guards succeeded in preventing him from entering the Central Bus Station and perpetrating what could have been a worse incident, officials said.
It was the first suicide bombing since Israel completed its removal of civilians from the Gaza Strip and four northern West Bank settlements last week.
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas condemned the incident as a "terror attack."
Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, of Sharon's Likud party, suggested in a radio interview on Monday that if the model of evacuating settlements brought about "calm and quiet" then it could become a "positive model for any future moves."
However if the model failed and missiles hit Israeli towns, he said, "Israel reserves the right to retaliate."
On Monday there were several shooting attacks at Israeli army targets still in the Gaza Strip. Israeli officials are hoping to complete the Israeli military withdrawal from Gaza by mid-September.
There have been 14 shooting attacks, two mortar and two rocket attacks since the pullout ended last week, the army said.
Also on Monday, a 14-year-old Palestinian was caught at a checkpoint leaving the West Bank city of Nablus with a bag containing three pipe bombs and shrapnel, the army said.
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