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Sharon Says Peres in U.S. to Prepare Ground for Future Talks

May 1, 2001
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As the pace of diplomatic activity increases again in the Middle East, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he sent Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to Washington this week to “create the groundwork for future negotiations.”

Speaking Monday via satellite to the Anti-Defamation League’s annual leadership meeting, Sharon said a “full cessation of hostility” was necessary before Israel could resume negotiations with the Palestinians.

“It should be quiet,” Sharon said, reiterating a favorite theme. “This government will not negotiate under pressure of terrorism and violence.”

Sharon said Jerusalem is “under siege” and that his main goal is to restore safety and security to Israel. Remembered in the international community for his wartime experiences, Sharon said he understands the importance of peace.

“For me, peace is something serious,” he said. “Peace should last generations.”

As part of that effort, Peres, a former prime minister and the elder statesman of Sharon’s government, arrived in Washington this week for a series of meetings with U.S. officials, including President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell. He also will meet with congressional leaders and give speeches to Middle East think tanks and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Peres is expected to gauge U.S. reaction to an Egyptian-Jordanian plan for an Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire. Peres spent the weekend in Cairo and Amman, presenting Israel’s thoughts on the proposal.

“I see the beginning of a possibility of getting out of the present deadlock,” Peres said in an interview with Israeli Television.

The Egyptian-Jordanian plan, drafted with the aid of the Palestinians, calls on Israel to ease restrictions it has imposed on Palestinians since their violent uprising against Israel began in late September, including pulling back Israeli troops from positions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and releasing tax money that has been withheld.

Most controversially, however, the plan demands that Israel completely cease settlement construction in the West Bank and Gaza. Sharon has agreed not to build any new settlements, but has reserved the right to expand existing communities to accommodate “natural growth.”

If Israel agrees to the plan, negotiations would resume after the cease-fire holds for a still-to-be determined amount of time.

That the plan was produced by Middle East leaders represents a contrast from recent years, when the United States served as the main mediator. In his address Monday, Sharon endorsed an approach in which Israel and Arab countries speak face to face.

“Most of the negotiations and talks should be bilateral,” Sharon said. “Let the sides solve bilaterally the complicated problems that exist.”

When asked what Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat needs to do to receive an invitation to the White House, Sharon said Arafat “should stop terror, because Arafat is playing with terror.”

“Most of the terror which is carried against Israel at the present time is done by military or intelligence organizations which are under the direct control of Arafat,” Sharon said.

Arafat should not be invited to the White House now because it would “postpone the peace,” Sharon said. Rather, he said, heavy pressure should be placed on Arafat to stop terror – but Israel will not “interfere” in any decision the United States makes in the matter, Sharon said.

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