News and Information

Sharon foresees 'year of peace'
December 17, 2004
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said 2005 offers a historic opportunity for peace with the Palestinians.

He said Israel was ready to co-ordinate its pull-out from Gaza with a new Palestinian leadership, following the death of Yasser Arafat in November.

There are contradictory reports on Israel's readiness to attend a peace conference in London early in 2005.

Reports initially said Israel had accepted British Prime Minister Tony Blair's invitation to the conference.

We have no desire to rule over you. It is clear that in a permanent peace accord, we will not be in Gaza
Ariel Sharon

Press sees Sharon riding high
These were later contradicted.

Raanan Gissin, an adviser to the Israeli prime minister, said Israel had withdrawn its initial opposition to the conference, but would not participate.

"We dropped our objections when we heard what the substance would be, to aid the new Palestinian leadership. Israel is not a partner to this conference. We will not participate," Mr Gissin told the Reuters news agency.

Mr Blair, who is due to visit the region within the next week, has been trying to convene a Middle East conference, including the Israelis, in London in February.


Mr Sharon's disengagement plan envisages Israel withdrawing its soldiers and settlers from Gaza by the end of next year. Israel would retain control of Gaza's external borders and airspace.
Hamas supporters in Gaza
Militant groups such as Hamas enjoy widespread support in Gaza

But Palestinian presidential hopeful Mahmoud Abbas appeared to reject working with the Israelis on the plan.

Reuters news agency quoted him as saying that the Palestinians could never discuss anything less than a state in all of the West Bank and Gaza.

But he later said the two sides could co-ordinate the disengagement plan if it was part of the US-backed roadmap for peace.

Egypt offer

The BBC's Barbara Plett in Jerusalem says Mr Sharon's speech recast existing positions in a tone of optimism.

The Israeli leader also highlighted how the past year has seen his government achieve US approval for its intention to retain large settlements in the West Bank while blocking the future right of return for Palestinian refugees.

In his speech to a conference in the Israeli town of Herzliya, Mr Sharon appeared to endorse Palestinian claims to independent statehood.

"We have no desire to rule over you," he said. "It is clear that in a permanent peace accord, we will not be in Gaza."

He also hailed improved relations with Cairo, indicating for the first time that Israel would consider letting Egypt police the border with Gaza if it proved effective at curbing weapons smuggling.

The Gaza withdrawal, Mr Sharon said, could eventually be the basis for a new peace deal with the Palestinians - provided their government eliminated militancy.


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