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Sharon Retracts Use of Word 'Occupation'
By DAN EPHRON
The Boston Globe, Jerusalem, May 28, 2003
"A day after stunning Israelis by saying he wanted to end the Jewish state's rule over millions of Palestinians, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon backtracked yesterday, saying that he should not have used the word 'occupation' to describe Israel's dominion in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Sharon's original remarks on Monday drew an angry response from members of his government and his own Likud party and underlined some of the difficulties the Israeli leader will face as he tries to steer his country back into the peace process with the Palestinians. But the political windstorm he generated also said something about the way Sharon is perceived in Israel. After more than two years as prime minister, many Israelis still do not know whether he has really softened his hawkish views or just disguised himself as a dove."
"Compounding his troubles yesterday, Sharon and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, put off a planned summit over what was officially described as a scheduling problem but what some Israelis said was an obstacle erected by Yasser Arafat. Sharon and Abbas had been due to meet today in talks that would pave the way for a three-way summit in the region with President Bush next week. Israeli officials, speaking on the condition that they not be identified, said the delay stemmed from a demand by Palestinian leader Arafat that no understandings be reached with Israel before his Fatah party considers them. Several of the Palestinian officials contacted refused to comment on the postponement beyond saying it was procedural. . . . Sharon, who for years was Israel's most prominent hawk and now presides over a center-right government, was already taking heat from coalition hard-liners after persuading his Cabinet on Sunday to endorse the peace plan known as the 'road map.' "
"His assertion the next day that keeping '3.5 million Palestinians under occupation is bad for us and them' was too much for some of his political partners. 'I told the prime minister that his remarks left me in a state of shock,' said Shaul Yahalom, a lawmaker from the National Religious Party. The issue is partly semantic. While most Israelis tell pollsters they want to end the rule over the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, the word 'occupation' is usually shunned by members on the right. Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan and the Gaza Strip from Egypt in the 1967 war, and most of the world views the areas as occupied under international law. But Israel argues that the areas are 'disputed' because Jordanian and Egyptian sovereignties over the West Bank and Gaza were never broadly recognized and the Jewish state has claims to both."
" 'It's just not correct to use the term 'occupied' because a person cannot be an occupier in his own land,' said lawmaker Gideon Saar, a member of Sharon's Likud party, who criticized the Israeli leader in an interview. Elyakim Rubinstein, Israel's attorney general, also chided Sharon for using the term, prompting a retraction yesterday from the prime minister's office. 'When he [Sharon] used the expression 'occupation' at yesterday's meeting of the Likud Knesset faction, he meant that we do not want to rule over the Palestinian population in the areas of dispute,' a statement from his office said. But the discord over the word was also an argument over substance. Left-wing Israelis said yesterday that ending the occupation would mean an Israeli withdrawal from all or most of the West Bank and Gaza, something Sharon has never indicated a willingness to do."
" 'You can't hold on to 60 percent of the territory and claim to have ended occupation,' said Yael Dayan, a former lawmaker from the Labor Party. Dayan said she thought Sharon used the word 'occupation' deliberately; he repeated it several times in one sentence. But she was not sure whether he would act on it. 'He's done the irreversible in words. Now the question is if the United States will demand that he follow it up with actions,' she said."
"Sharon has said repeatedly that he was ready to make 'painful concessions' for peace with the Palestinians, but he refuses to spell out his vision for a final settlement. Many Palestinians and some Israelis contend that he intends to withdraw from the main population centers in the West Bank and Gaza but ultimately keep at least half the territory under Israeli control. The road map, which calls for an end to violence and for Palestinian independence by 2005, does not outline the borders of the future Palestinian state. But it does say the final agreement should be anchored in U.N. resolutions and a Saudi peace initiative that call for Israel's withdrawal from all of the West Bank and Gaza."