PM tells ‘Post’ leaving Gaza is the only way to salvage major West Bank settlements

By David Horovitz April 21, 2005

Sharon says he’ll never send ground troops back into the Strip to fight terror

(With Herb Keinon)

Relinquishing Gaza is the only way in which Israel can expect to salvage the core of the settlement enterprise in the West Bank, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon asserted to The Jerusalem Post in an interview ahead of Pessah.

He also said that there were no circumstances whatsoever in which he could envisage Israel sending ground forces back into Gaza after the scheduled summer pullout, even if, as he acknowledged was certainly possible, there was a resurgence of terrorism in the Strip. Israel would fight terror in Gaza, ‘without limits,’ he said, ‘but I do not see a situation in which we would be required to go back in on the ground.’

Had more Diaspora Jews chosen to make their homes here, Sharon said, it is possible that his overall strategy might have been different, ‘but we have to look at the facts as they are.’ And in the reality that he inherited as prime minister, he said, the unfortunate truth was that only ‘part of the settlement dream’ could realistically be achieved.

‘I don’t see, looking at the long-term picture, any possibility of a community of a few thousand Jews, for all its achievements and its special heroism, remaining in Gaza.’ In the West Bank, by contrast, he said, ‘I am doing everything I can to save as much as I can.’

Israel’s readiness to pull out of Gaza, he said, had radically altered the international reality. ‘Without that readiness, we would be facing very heavy pressure. Israel has no [such] pressures today.’

Sharon said that the decision to embark on disengagement was ‘perhaps the hardest decision I have ever had to make,’ and that he well recognized that ‘from the settlers’ point of view, it pains them even more.’

Still, he said, they should not draw exaggeratedly grim conclusions, and should certainly not consider that their entire, admirable effort had been in vain. The settlers were ‘the pioneers’ of the past generation, and thanks to their commitment, he said, Israelis were today able to live in Ma’aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion and other areas of immense historical resonance for the Jewish people. He spoke specifically of the Jewish residents of Hebron, asserting that henceforth ‘Jews would always live’ in that city.

The prime minister would not be drawn on his long-term vision for the West Bank, insisting that this was a subject for final-status negotiations, and that the path to such talks, which could run only via the road map, was far from open at present.

For the road map process to begin, he made clear, the Palestinian Authority would have to dismantle terrorist organizations, stop incitement, begin educating its people about peace and more. Next to none of that, unfortunately, was happening at present, he said, and so the road map era had not yet arrived. The US administration, he added, fully shared this assessment.

The US, too, he said, was standing firm in its position that ‘the demands of reality require that the major settlement blocs remain under Israeli control.’

He said that Israel’s position was that ‘contiguity will be preserved’ between these blocs and Israel – via, among other means, the construction of housing in areas such as the E1 strip between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim.

On this, he acknowledged, the US and Israel did not necessarily see eye to eye. But then again, he noted, the US had always formally opposed all Jewish settlement in the territories and, nonetheless, settlement construction had continued over the years.

Meanwhile, following an embarrassingly low turnout at a pre-Pessah toast in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, Sharon was received warmly by a large crowd in Hadera on Wednesday night. Sharon told the crowd that the many difficulties involved in implementing the disengagement plan would be handled properly.

‘I hope that with all the difficulties we will overcome everything,’ Sharon said. ‘The Jewish struggle doesn’t end with one plan or another. And perhaps we will start the diplomatic process if the Palestinians start doing what they are supposed to do.’

Sharon’s opponents in his party, the so-called Likud rebels, held a separate toast in Rishon Lezion and sang songs about the land of Israel and Gush Katif.

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