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No palestine vote { May 12 2002 }

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Israeli Ruling Party Says No to Palestinian State
Last Updated: May 12, 2002 05:56 PM ET
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By Maia Ridberg

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's ruling Likud Party passed a resolution Sunday saying it would never agree to an independent Palestinian state, a victory for former Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu over Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

A senior Palestinian official said the vote was a blow to efforts to revive the Middle East peace process.

Sharon, responding to pressure from within his party, had told a Likud convention that Palestinians must end militant action and undertake political reform before there could be any talk of establishing a state.

But party members rejected his position, voting in favor of a resolution put forward by Netanyahu that simply ruled out an independent Palestinian state.

An independent Palestinian government might eventually be possible, Netanyahu said in his speech.

"But a state with all the rights of a state, this cannot be, not under Arafat, nor under another leadership, not today, nor tomorrow," he said.

The resolution could tie Sharon's hands in any negotiations with the Palestinians. Both sides are considering a U.S. proposal to hold a conference in the summer to try to restart the peace process.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said it endangered any hope of an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, who have been locked in an uprising against Israeli control since September 2000 when previous peace talks stalled.

The vote also signaled a domestic battle for Sharon as Netanyahu attempts to win the leadership of the right-wing party before general elections scheduled for next year.

Sharon said in his speech the vote was "a dangerous one for the state of Israel, that will complicate its diplomatic efforts."

It took place at an often raucous convention in Tel Aviv which was marked by shouting, booing and cheering, and occasional scuffles.

Netanyahu said that for peace, Israel needed complete territorial control, a buffer zone to restrict movements of Palestinians, and to expel or dispose of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

"It is clear now that we cannot reach any kind of solution at all with the Palestinians," he said.

Sharon himself has long been reluctant to deal with the issue of a Palestinian state and has enjoyed popular approval from many Israelis for reacting to suicide bombings and attacks against Israeli citizens with tough military force, including a crushing offensive in the West Bank last month.

He also took a hardline position Sunday, though evidently not hard enough.

"We do not deal at all with the Palestinian state now. It does not stand on the agenda of the day," Sharon said.

Sharon, who accuses Arafat of being linked to suicide bombings and attacks on Israelis, insisted he cannot be dealt with.

"There is no chance for peace with terror or with a man of terror," Sharon said of Arafat.

Sharon repeated his insistence that all Palestinian violence must stop. He also hammered a line laid out during his visit to the United States this week -- that the Palestinian Authority set up under self-rule accords must completely reform.

The Israeli prime minister says he favors a long-term interim settlement leading toward a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

After a first vote against Sharon's position, he said he respected the party decision but he was still the leader of the country. He strode out before the second vote supporting Netanyahu's resolution.

"The end game is now clear," Erekat told CNN. "This war is not against terror continue ruling 3.3 million Palestinians. It is very dangerous and I hope it will be an eye opener to the world to show them who we are dealing with."

"How many Palestinians will wake up tomorrow to say 'we have nothing to lose'?. I hope it will be an eye-opener to President Bush"

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