Israeli rightists rally against Sharon plan
( 2004-01-12 08:39) (Agencies)
Tens of thousands of Israeli right-wingers rallied Sunday against a plan from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, their champion for decades, that could spell the end for some Jewish settlements.
It was the biggest show of force by the pro-settler movement since Sharon said late last year that Israel would act alone to separate from the Palestinians if peace efforts fail under a plan that would also mean uprooting some settlements.
They rallied under a banner that read "Israel Does Not Want to Fold."
But an unfazed Sharon, a 75-year-old former army general, said in Jerusalem: "Things are decided not by demonstrators but by the government, my government."
He reiterated that Israel was committed to a U.S.-backed peace "road map," but if that failed it would take unilateral steps "under which we would have to relocate some Jewish communities and redeploy our armed forces."
MOOD OF BETRAYAL
A mood of betrayal hung heavily over the rally in Tel Aviv's Yitzhak Rabin Square, named after the left-wing prime minister shot dead there in 1995 by a Jewish extremist opposed to his interim peace deals with the Palestinians.
"Sharon is making sounds of weakness," Housing Minister Effi Eitam of the National Religious Party said to cheers.
Fellow cabinet member Uzi Landau, a stalwart of the ruling Likud party, suggested that Palestinians rather than settlers should be moved. "If Jewish communities can be relocated, Arab communities can also be relocated," he said.
The road map has been thrown into doubt by violence and the failure of either side to take promised steps for peace.
Sharon is threatening a selective pullback along the line of a barrier going up in the West Bank, but looping around the biggest settlement blocs.
Palestinians fear the barrier would splinter the state they seek and called Sunday for international help to stop it.
"I am trying to attract attention to what they are trying to do through this wall," Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie said Sunday in Qalqilya, one of the West Bank cities penned in by the barrier. "They are drawing a picture of an imposed solution on the ground."
Palestinians have said they might scrap independence plans and demand a "bi-national" single state -- grouping Israel with the West Bank and Gaza Strip -- where Arabs could be in the majority within a few years.
In the West Bank Sunday, a Palestinian suicide bomber died alone when he apparently set off his explosives prematurely near a settlement. Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian during clashes with stone-throwers.
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