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Sharons unilateral steps fan opinion war inside israel

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Sharon's unilateral steps fan opinion war inside Israel 2003-12-11 20:51:10

JERUSALEM, Dec. 11 (Xinhuanet) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's recently suggested unilateral steps to be taken if peacemaking with Palestinians fail have fanned an opinion war inside Israel, especially the political circle.

Israeli Transportation Minister Avigdor Lieberman is slated to hold a meeting Thursday night with a group of hardliner ministers to lobby them for more support against the Sharon plan which indicates unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Lieberman, head of the National Union party and a settler living in the West Bank, has been working closely with at least four Israeli government ministers from the ruling Likud party this week to block the unilateral pullout.

Meanwhile, he threatened that his faction, now having two ministers in the cabinet, will have to leave the coalition if any Jewish settlement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is dismantled.

Israeli settlers' council chairman Benzi Lieberman told Israel Radio on Thursday that some government ministers have vowed to fight the plan, but their identities would not be revealed.

He said Sharon might perhaps announce his new diplomatic plan, including settlement evacuations, in the coming days.

Israeli Channel 2 Television reported Wednesday that Israeli settlers are planning large demonstrations in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem against the evacuations.

In recent days, hawkish Sharon seems to have softened his stance toward the Palestinians under pressure from home and abroad.

He has repeatedly referred to taking unilateral steps as an alternative to the US-sponsored roadmap peace plan to end the chronic conflict with the Palestinians.

Sharon's deputy, Ehud Olmert, said in an interview with a mass-circulated local newspaper last Friday that unilateral steps are necessary because Israel is approaching the point where Arabs will outnumber Jews in areas under Israeli control.

"I won't define the border," Olmert, who served as Jerusalem mayor for 10 years before his current post, told the Yediot Daily. "I will just say that it will be based on a maximization of the number of Jews and a minimization of the number of Arabs inside the State of Israel."

Olmert said Israel would have to retain control over east Jerusalem's Old City and some Arab neighborhoods close to the downtown area, but suggested that outlying Arab neighborhoods could be placed under Palestinian control.

Olmert's remarks soon roiled sharp criticism from right-wing Israeli officials who oppose such a territory compromise.

Israeli Housing and Construction Minister Efraim Eitam said if Olmert's talking represent the government's policy, his National Religious Party, now taking two seats in the cabinet, will leave the unity government.

"The moment these speeches become official policy and are translated into action, I estimate that the government in its current form will cease to exist," Eitam said.

But Olmert's remarks was welcomed by some members of his Likud party and politically left-wing ministers.

Minister of Immigrant Absorption Tzipi Livni, also from Likud, said Sunday that she supports the unilateral withdrawal plan, and Likud needs to initiate diplomatic solutions because if they don't, others will.

"In order to maintain a Jewish character and a demographic majority in Israel, I think it is clear that we need to give up some of the territories," Livni said.

Israel's Shinui Party leader and Justice Minister Yosef Lapid called Sharon's plan "a politically courageous move", saying it was a brave declaration though not easy.

Shimon Peres, now taking the helm of the Labor party, also promised to back the plan.

"If the government implements what Olmert says, Labor will support it," he said. Enditem

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