Friday 28 February 2003

Sharon in Palestine state u-turn

PM drops road map to peace in favour of settlers

Ariel Sharon yesterday virtually ruled out the creation of a Palestinian state under his hawkish new government just a day after President Bush pledged to broker a peace deal once he has dealt with Iraq.

Hours before his cabinet was sworn in, the prime minister revealed to the knesset that he has backed away from his commitment to the Palestinian state envisioned by Washington's "road map" for a settlement, as part of the deal to put together his government.

Mr Sharon told the knesset that the road map is "a matter of controversy in the coalition" and had been dropped from the written agreement which drew far right, pro-settler and anti-religious parties into the administration.

The prime minister will also have frustrated his American friends by promising to expand Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.

A Palestinian cabinet minister, Saeb Erekat, said Mr Sharon's speech killed any prospect of a peace process under the new government.

"He is saying there is no road map, no peace process. It's a government for the settlers, from the settlers and by the settlers," he said. "I think Sharon made it clear tonight that he wants the Palestinians to surrender to him. I hope President Bush will see the light."

The leader of the Labour opposition, Amram Mitzna, told the knesset that the composition of the government meant there is little chance of a breakthrough toward a settlement with the Palestinians.

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