There was great tension in the political and defense establishments in Israel and abroad as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon delivered his speech at the Herzliya Conference this evening. The speech was aired live on television across the world - even on the Arab Al-Jazeera network.
Prime Minister Sharon began by saying that Aliyah (Jewish immigration to Israel) is central to the state of Israel's existence. PM Sharon then turned his attention to the issue of unauthorized Jewish communities in Yesha (Judea, Samaria and Gaza).
“Israel will fulfill its commitments,” said Sharon. “I made a commitment to US President Bush and I will fulfill that commitment. We will try to dismantle the outposts in the least painful possible way. There will be no new settlements and no incentives or tax breaks for residents of Yesha (Judea, Samaria, and Gaza).”
The Prime Minister went on to unveil what he called his “disengagement plan,” to be implemented in the event that the PA does not fulfill its obligations under the Road Map. “We will not wait for them [the Palestinian Authority] indefinitely,” said Sharon. “The IDF will disengage from many Palestinian Authority towns. We will change the location of some settlements to reduce the amount of Jews living in the heart of Palestinian areas.”
Sharon introduced a new term to replace the term “dismantling settlements.” Instead, the Prime Minister referred to the “relocation of settlements” throughout his speech
“I know you would like to hear names,” said Sharon, referring to the specific Jewish towns he intends to uproot, “but we should leave some things for later.”
Sharon's speech raised hope in some circles. "This is a new language by the Israelis," Sheik Nafez Azzam, a spokesman for the Islamic Jihad terrorist organization told the Associated Press, "and this is evidence that the uprising has created a new fact on the ground."
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, speaking yesterday at the Herzliya Conference, came out against recent plans such as the Geneva Initiative and Olmert's unilateral withdrawals. Minister Shalom bemoaned the lack of determination and patience in the Israeli political discourse, saying that the current proliferation of peace plans indicates the lack of Israeli perseverance. They indicate, Minister Shalom said, weakness and shortsightedness, and undermine Israel's desire for both a united front and agreed-upon peace and security. They also undermine the Israeli position by announcing ahead of time Israel's final negotiating positions.
Minister Shalom said that Israel must pursue the Road Map plan - to which the Israeli Cabinet has attached, though barely publicized, 14 qualifications - while at the same time making all efforts to protect its citizens. He called for accelerating construction of the anti-terrorism fence, and said that, should the negotiations with the PA fail, Israel should try to pursue dialogue with the Syrians.
Government Minister Meir Sheetrit said today, "I'm considered one of the moderates in the Likud, and yet I say out loud: I'm totally against unilateral gestures and withdrawals. These are virtual plans. What can we gain from such a thing? We'll give up territories and still be left without peace. Let's first make peace, and only afterwards make concessions."