International Information Programs
Office of Research Issue Focus Foreign Media Reaction

May 5, 2004

May 5, 2004





**  The vote is a "painful defeat" for PM Sharon and an "embarrassment" for President Bush.

**  Mainstream Israeli dailies predict "a new plan:  mini-disengagement" from Sharon.

**  Many global dailies urge a "national referendum on disengagement" in Israel.

**  Leftist papers call for an "international effort" to fix the "deadlocked" situation. 




The U.S. 'humiliated itself and undermined its role'--  Dailies agreed the Likud referendum is not only a defeat for Sharon but also for Bush, who "was caught unprepared" after "putting himself out on the line with important concessions for Sharon."  The UAE's expatriate-oriented Khaleej Times assailed the "blatant show of unilateralism" with which Bush "chose to endorse the Sharon plan even before it was put to vote in Israel";  Germany's left-of-center Frankfurter Rundschau held that "Bush is among those who were duped" by Sharon's promise to "implement his plan."  Belgium's independent De Standaard added that Bush "could not have invented anything better to alienate the Arab world."  


Sharon will propose 'disengagement-lite'--  Israeli outlets judged that Sharon will now seek a limited and step-by-step evacuation of settlers from Gaza.  Sharon will "push forward with his unilateral disengagement plan" because, said popular Maariv, both the U.S. and Israelis "expect him to keep his promise."  A leftist writer said the vote proved Likud is the "zealots' poodle," referring to settlers.  Nationalist Hatzofe countered that the vote was a "victory of honest people" over Sharon's attempt to "steal" the Likud party.  Non-Israeli writers speculated that the defeat actually was a "relief for Sharon," who now can portray himself as "a moderate man facing extremists from his own party" according to Jordan's center-left Al-Dustour.  


Sharon 'would win support for the plan in a popular vote'--  Since "Sharon has the support of a majority of the Israeli population," he should "seek approval through some form of national vote" for his disengagement plan.  London's conservative Daily Telegraph urged Sharon to "cut the Gordian knot of Likud factionalism and go for a nationwide referendum"; Israeli and Jordanian observers were in rare agreement in demanding all Israelis "be allowed to voice their position" on the plan, not just a "tiny minority" in the Likud.  Several dailies, however, saw "no formula for peace" in Sharon's withdrawal plan.  Saudi Arabia's moderate Al-Jazirah rejected the idea that "Sharon by himself can determine the fate" of Palestinians. 


Peace 'needs pressure and force from the outside world'--  Euro and Asian commentators insisted the "outside world cannot remain idle" in response to the impasse.  Hong Kong's independent South China Morning Post called on the roadmap's architects to "step up the pressure and argue for a return to negotiations."  Other papers said the defeat of Sharon's plan meant a continuation of a "dangerous, aimless phase"; Brazil's center-right O Globo said Sharon now leads a "divided, confused country."  Spain's conservative ABC glumly termed the current situation the "worst scenario for peace and stability in the region."  


EDITOR:  Ben Goldberg


EDITOR'S NOTE:  Media Reaction reporting conveys the spectrum of foreign press sentiment.  Posts select commentary to provide a representative picture of local editorial opinion.  This report summarizes and interprets foreign editorial opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government.  This analysis was based on 65 reports from 20 countries over 2 - 5 May 2004.  Editorial excerpts from each country are listed from the most recent date.




BRITAIN:  "Sharon's Defeat:  But Peace No Nearer, With Or Without Withdrawal From Gaza"


An editorial in the independent Financial Times read (5/5):  "The policy is the problem, not the Likud vote.  For, despite much Israeli, US and British sophistry about the Gaza withdrawal being a way-station on the road map, in its present form it forecloses on a viable future Palestinian state--at the same time as Mr. Sharon's so-called defence barrier is enclosing Palestinians into an archipelago of cantons.  What Likud activists defeated was not a formula for peace."


"The People Of Israel Must Decide On Disengagement"


The conservative Daily Telegraph observed (5/5):  "The prime minister should, instead, cut the Gordian knot of Likud factionalism and go for a nationwide referendum on disengagement.  He is likely to get cabinet and Knesset approval for the necessary legislation, and there is little doubt that he would win support for the plan in a popular vote.  At the moment, having badly misjudged the extent of his influence over Likud, Mr. Sharon appears to be heading towards a deeply unsatisfactory compromise.  Given the overall strength of his position, something much bolder is feasible: face down the Right-wingers by going over their heads to parliament and the general public."


“Likud’s Veteran Leader Vows There Is No Going Back"


Harvey Morris and Guy Dinmore noted in the independent Financial Times (5/4):  "Dealing with fretful partners in the peace process had never been a high priority of the Bush administration, and that the flexible road map had been tailored to fit US domestic demands before, and would be again.  Analysts agreed it would be a gross exaggeration to say that the Likud referendum had left US policy in the Middle East in tatters....  Nor does Mr. Bush have real problems on the domestic front.  On the contrary, analysts say he can portray himself and his close friend, Mr. Sharon, as moderates thwarted in their quest for peace.  The issue is not on radar screens of concerns ahead of November’s presidential election.”


“A Tiny Minority Of Israelis Must Not Be Allowed To Dictate The Destiny Of Israel And Palestine”


The center-left Independent editorialized (5/4):  "Despite crumbling hopes for the once much-vaunted road-map peace plan, an international effort to use yesterday’s extremely serious reverse for Mr Sharon to start thinking creatively about fresh steps to implement it would certainly be welcome....  The U.S. now has a responsibility to caution Mr Sharon against a diluted version of the plan which would limit still further the number of settlers to be evacuated, one which would attract as fanatical opposition for even less gain, and would violate the understandings reached in Washington in April.  It is a bleak but unmistakable sign of how far the conflict is from a breakthrough that, flawed as it is, the Sharon plan rejected by Likud on Sunday has become a necessary, if wholly insufficient, precondition of future.”


“Israel:  Settling Nothing"


The left-of-center Guardian remarked (5/4):  "The responsibility to bring that hope back to life now rests on the world community, and particularly on the Middle East quartet which meets today in New York.  The UN secretary-general Kofi Annan suggested last week that the UN should preside over settlement withdrawals.  There is a danger that by doing that it would endorse Mr. Sharon’s plan for unilateral action.  Somehow, though, the quartet must find a way to reassert an international role and find a negotiated route out of this terrible impasse."


FRANCE:  ““Bush’s Strategic Temerity Un-Rewarded”


Philippe Gelie wrote in right-of-center Le Figaro (5/4):  “This is not President Bush’s first miscalculation on the Middle East. But, added to his problems in Iraq, the failure of ‘Sharon’s plan’ leaves him only bad side effects that need to be dealt with....  The fact that President Bush was the only one to support Sharon’s plan shows his lack of experience with the Middle East. While he will be able to reap some benefits on the domestic front, his support of Sharon will complicate his efforts in the region just when the image of the U.S. is at its worst.”




Jean-Christophe Ploquin held in Catholic La Croix (5/4):  “The affront which the Likud has inflicted on Sharon will force the American sponsor to show more caution in the future....  For all those in the international community who believe that peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians requires negotiation and mutual concessions, Sharon’s plans are a source of concern. But the international community is standing by, apathetic, looking on these events as if paralyzed by the Bush administration’s options.”


“The Loser Wins”


Charles Lambroschini noted in right-of-center Le Figaro (5/3):  “Every poll predicted that the ‘No’ would lead in Sharon’s party referendum. In spite of this, Sharon is playing his usual game where the loser wins....  Sharon has the support of a majority of the Israeli population and has nothing to fear from his only competitor, Netanyahu....  His West Bank strategy appears risky only on the surface since the U.S. no longer considers the settlements to be illegal....  Sharon is putting Gaza in the hands of the extremists....  Arafat, who has been increasingly marginalized since his forced exile to Ramallah, will find renewed authority only if he supports an escalation....  And in Gaza, Hamas will cry victory, as it did in Southern Lebanon, when Israel withdrew, thus playing the hand of the extremists. As an objective ally of Sharon, Hamas will provide the Israeli Prime Minister with every possible pretext to disengage from the roadmap, the peace plan imposed by his American friend. For the past fifty years the Palestinians have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. As for Sharon, he has always known how to turn tactical defeats into strategic successes.”


“Sharon’s Failure”


Bernard Guetta said on state-run France Inter radio (5/3):  “Should we be happy or regret the results of the referendum....  The answer is not an easy one....  What we can all expect now is that Sharon will revert to a national referendum. If his plans are indeed to annex part of the West Bank and to unilaterally determine the boundaries between Israel and a partitioned Palestine, then we can expect disaster. The Palestinians will then find an excuse to pursue their terrorist campaign. The worst part is that Sharon’s withdrawal will not be accompanied by something in return for Israel. Worse even, Hamas will be able to say that it was its armed rebellion that led to Israel’s withdrawal. Sharon knows all this. But he believes that in time, he will be able to annihilate Hamas and that the Palestinians will have no option other than to accept the existence of Israel....  It is indeed too early to say whether the referendum’s failure will benefit the side of peace or the side of war.”


GERMANY:  "Sharon's Defeat--Failure Or Victory?"


Wolfgang Guenter Lerch commented in center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine (5/4):  "Likud's rejection of the plan can be seen as a relief for Sharon.  Didn't he really know what most of his party members thought?  Unlikely.  He can now tell his critics and American ally that he tried everything, but it would be too problematic to act against the vote of his own supporters.  Sharon did not lose a lot in the West Bank, because Americans have already and without any need welcomed his idea of integrating (or annexing) six large settlements before the decision.   As a result, Sharon's weakening is relative:  He does not need to withdraw from Gaza, but has still the option to annex settlements.  He does not even have to fear early elections, because a majority of Israelis supports the internationally condemned killing of Hamas and other radical Palestinian leaders as well as the installation of the so-called security fence."


"The Ghosts He Called"


Clemens Wergin observed in centrist Der Tagesspiegel of Berlin (5/4):  "U.S. President Bush would not be amused if Sharon were to renounce his initiative now.  Only two weeks ago he fitted in with the Prime Minister's plan to support a positive result of the referendum.  He ran the risk that the U.S. government could stand there as a one-sided supporter of Israel.  Therefore, the Likud referendum is not only a defeat for Sharon but also for Bush.  Sharon must now do something that makes Bush look better, and those who want peace must now back Sharon against his party.  A partial Israeli retreat is certainly not sufficient, but it is necessary.  The likes of Rabin, Peres and Barak negotiated with Palestinians in the 1990s, but the did not change the tough realities on the ground.  On the contrary, settlements were enlarged.  Sharon's initiative is going the opposite way:  He doesn't want to negotiate but end settlements.  This might be too little for a true peace, but one thing is clear:  A settlement once removed from the Gaza Strip will hardly be rebuilt again.  And that is something."


"Rescue Of An Illusion"


Left-of-center Frankfurter Rundschau stated (5/4):  "U.S. President Bush is among those who were duped, given all the conceivable concessions he made to Sharon.   And the Palestinian autonomy leadership sees its view confirmed, which is politically shortsighted, because peace negotiations have never been further away. The dilemma is that the situation remains deadlocked--at least until the presidential election in the U.S."


"Lonely Sharon"


Pierre Heumann maintained in business-oriented Handelsblatt of Duesseldorf (5/4):  "After this referendum Sharon is a leader without a party....  The result strengthens the far right of Sharon's coalition for the time being.  Even the smallest concessions of the Likud Party to Palestinians will now be impossible, because Israel's left, which is committed to peace, is not a relevant force Sharon must fear.  Neither has it a competent leadership nor an important platform.   But if Sharon really wants to stick to his plan he will need the support of the Labor Party....  If Sharon and Peres agree to form a coalition, it could give new momentum to the withdrawal plan.  But if the government leader sticks to his current team of notorious opponents, he would certainly have to abolish his plan.  Beyond that, political initiatives could no longer be expected.  It would damage Sharon's credibility so that he could not govern for very long."


"The General In An Expanse Of Rubble"


Peter Muench opined in center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich (5/4):  "Ariel Sharon has come under friendly fire.  His party friends inflicted a painful defeat on the old general in the vote on the plans to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.  The Likud Party passed a vote of no confidence in its own leader--that will weaken him, but won't knock him out.  Sharon managed that everybody lost--Israelis, Palestinians, the U.S. government and even settlers, although they believe to be the winners--because the rejection of the Gaza plan means that the Mideast conflict could now turn from a destructive into an even more dangerous, aimless phase....  Fearing compromises with Palestinians, Sharon did not want to negotiate, but create facts unilaterally and force Palestinians to accept what he was willing to give.  Gaza served as bait that got him the support of the U.S. government.  That worked - and therefore Washington is among the losers.  President Bush is paying a high price for his close bond with Sharon:  First, he gambled away America's rest of credibility in the Arab world as a broker in finding a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  And now a few thousand right-wing Likud supporters duped him....  The failed vote opens up vistas on a political expanse of rubble.  Sharon seems to be willing to work this expanse of rubble.  But hardly anything will grow on it."




Jacques Schuster argued in right-of-center Die Welt of Berlin (5/4):  "The Israeli Prime Minister suffered a devastating defeat for the first time in three years of government.  It could herald the beginning of his end; Sharon's image as tactical genius and brilliant man of action was damaged.  Beyond that, his entire concept for dealing with Palestinians was binned like so many before, and some Likud members refuted convincing arguments from the Likud block on a single evening....  Ariel Sharon has lost the support of his party.  He might be right that only Likud can make painful compromises, but what can he do against the will of his party?  This remains to be seen.  If Sharon has not changed he will look for an act of release.  It's not clear what it will look like, but one thing is no longer possible:  a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip."


"Worse Than One-Sided"


Clemens Wergin held in centrist Der Tagesspiegel of Berlin (5/2):  "We will be excited to see the commentaries of authors if the referendum on the withdrawal plan in Sharon's Likud Party fails.  All indications are that it will fall.  If it is really rejected and Sharon gives in to the vote in his party, the critics will be able to witness something that is even worse than a one-sided withdrawal that has not been coordinated with the Palestinians.  No withdrawal, neither a one-sided nor a negotiated one.  A return to the roadmap would mean nothing but the return to the standstill of the past months.  As long as Palestinian President Arafat blocks all his prime ministers and prevents the establishment of efficient security forces, the peace plan will not make any progress.  Sharon shot himself in the foot when he presented his plan not to all Israelis but only to his own party members.  We can only hope that Sharon will ignore a negative vote and present his plan to all Israelis, since most of them are in favor of it."


ITALY:  “No No-Confidence, Sharon Stays”


Alberto Stabile contended in left-leaning, influential La Repubblica (5/4):  “Sharon has been left alone, like a general with no troops or to put it like some Israeli commentators, like a ‘leader without a party.’ Alone, with a piercing realization of having committed a fatal error for not having presented his plan to the government and to the Knesset, when, following his victory in Washington, he could have easily found the strength to overcome the test. Who would have dared oppose the Sharon-Bush tandem with all the benefits provided by the U.S. as a reward for the ‘courageous initiative?’ It’s no coincidence that Sharon, during his short speech to the Likud parliamentarians, chose to thank Bush once again for his support. The failure of the Israeli premier could in fact embarrass the U.S. president, who had praised the Gaza withdrawal plan and talked about it as an historical opportunity and who had rewarded Sharon’s intentions with a series of concessions that had spurred the protests of the Palestinians and of Arab countries.”


“Sharon’s Three Paradoxes”


Leading business-oriented Il Sole-24 Ore observed (5/4):  "President Bush was caught unprepared only a few days after putting himself out on the line with important concessions for Sharon, as he thought that the Premier would have been able to implement his plan to withdraw from Gaza....  Sharon is on a knife-edge, but Bush has made another mistake in the Middle East....  The climate of uncertainty that currently reigns in Israel is not the ideal one to return to the negotiating table. A weak or non-credible government will have many problems trying to carry out a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza as well as in re-examining the ‘road map’ for which the Quartet--U.S., UN, Russia and EU--is meeting today. In this situation, in which there is an endless massacre of innocents, the only thing left to hope for is Israeli democracy and in a rapid return to the voting stations in order to pave the way for a stronger executive branch which is convinced of undertaking new prospects for peace.”


“Sharon: I’ll Present An Alternative Plan”


Aldo Baquis commented in centrist, influential La Stampa (5/4):  “Among those that would like to know Sharon’s intentions is President Bush, who last month approved the plans of the Israeli premier convinced that the Likud would have given its go ahead. Bush had also given Sharon a letter in which he showed great understanding for Israel’s security needs, causing angry reactions among the Palestinians as well as among friendly nations like Jordan and Egypt. Aware of the embarrassment created for the U.S., Sharon reiterated that he would in no way allow the suspension of political initiatives in the area.”


“Blood Punctual As Usual”


Fiamma Nirenstein commented in centrist La Stampa (5/3):  “Once again the terrorists have mixed up the cards with blood: it’s their specialty.  They  did so at the time of the Oslo accords by killing 200 people on Jerusalem buses in two months’ time; they did it again with Camp David, by killing one thousand people in three years, and they are trying again now with the scheduled withdrawal from Gaza and part of the West Bank.  But, as we said, Sharon is a tough guy, and he will not recede from his plan.”


BELGIUM:  "More Pressure Required"


Mia Doornaert asserted in independent Christian-Democrat De Standaard (5/4):  "More than ever it is clear that peace in the Middle East needs pressure and force from the outside world.  Naturally, everybody is focusing on the U.S.  However, the rest of the world should not restrict itself to reproaching the Americans that they are playing both too little and too much the role of 'policeman of the world.'  Geographically, the EU expanded last weekend, but where is its role in the Middle East--except that it sends an envoy now and then to support Yasser Arafat's corrupt regime?....  What is the Arab world doing to bring peace closer?  The constant wave of anti-Semitism in the Arab media will not make the peace camp in Israel stronger.  Part of the Palestinian people's tragedy is the result of the fact that most Arab regimes only render lip service to 'the Palestinian brothers.'  They do not want war with Israel.  But, they don't want peace either because, in that event, they would no longer be able to divert the frustration of their own people over the lack of employment, freedom and progress to the Israeli scapegoat....  Nevertheless, the outside world cannot remain idle.  Stronger pressure is required to force Israel and the Palestinians to make crucial, painful concessions.  In this, America has an extremely important--although not the single--role to play.  That is why it is incomprehensible that President George W. Bush recently expressed his support for Ariel Sharon's' plan--which has nothing to do with a viable Palestinian state.  Indeed, (Bush) could not have invented anything better to alienate the Arab world and to make it impossible for the Palestinian leaders to negotiate with Israel.  With that (decision) he not only made the U.S. position in Iraq more difficult, but he also didn't show himself to be a real friend of Israel."


"Full Support"


Foreign editor Paul De Bruyn declared in conservative Christian-Democrat Gazet van Antwerpen (5/4):  "U.S. President George Bush expressed his full support to Sharon.  That was more than the latter had expected and it strengthened his position on the international scene.  Who is capable of imposing a different plan when the Americans are in line with Sharon?  Sharon's expectation was that Bush's support would also convince his own rank and file.  Last Sunday, however, what everybody knew became clear: that a major part of his rank and file does not want to hear about concessions....  Sharon has lost influence and prestige.  His position vis-à-vis his main rival...Benjamin Netanyahu has become weaker....  Sharon may not be counted out, but what happened on Sunday will certainly not do him any good."


NORWAY:  "No Tears For Sharon"


Independent Dagbladet commented (5/5):  "Sharon's plan for withdrawal makes the visions of an Israeli West Bank set in stone....  In this context a withdrawal or not from an over-populated Gaza doesn't mean much, except that Sharon will put President George W. Bush in a well deserved squeeze."


ROMANIA:  "Israeli PM's Plan"


Iulian Anghel opined in financial Ziarul Financiar (5/5): "This is not Bush’s first miscalculation regarding the Middle East.  But because of the many hardships with which he is confronted in Iraq, the fact that Likud (PM Ariel Sharon’s party) rejected unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza strip seems not to bother him too much....  The American president has been warned that his policies in the Middle East, and especially the unconditional support granted to Ariel Sharon, are destroying U.S. prestige and are detrimental not only to America, but also to the EU and the Muslims.”


"Israeli PM’s Plan To Withdraw from Gaza Strip"


Independent Cronica Romana editorialized (5/4):  “Israeli PM Ariel Sharon was defeated by his own right-wing party, Likud, with almost 60 percent of its members rejecting, in an internal referendum, his plan to unilaterally pull away from the Palestinians, known as 'the withdrawal from the Gaza strip'....  The failure of Sharon is implicitly a defeat for the American President, George W. Bush, who, on April 14, had upheld, without any reservation, the Israeli PM’s plan.”


SPAIN:  "Sharon Does Not Give Up"


Centrist La Vanguardia judged (5/4):  "Colonizing Gaza was a tremendous tactical mistake made by the Israelis, encouraged especially by Sharon.  Withdrawing from there is without a price, but with it the current Zionist Prime Minister justifies the construction of the shameful wall of isolation, which seizes more territories in the West Bank and imposes a policy of accomplished facts that the weakness of the Palestinian National Authority and its president, Yasser Arafat, is not able to prevent, above all when the international community continues feeding the permissive tolerance shown by the U.S."


"Sharon, Strategy and Vehemence"


Conservative ABC held (5/4):  "The dismantling of the settlements of farmers in Gaza is in principle good news for peace, for the Palestinians and for the Israelis.  But there is no guarantee whatsoever that this maneuver will be part of a withdrawal little by little from all the occupied territories.  On the contrary,  the suspicion prevails that the next and undeclared stage of Sharon's plan would be the annexation of part of the West Bank, ignoring once again UN resolutions.  A hypothesis that makes predictable the worst scenario for peace and stability in the region."


"Likud Leaves Sharon Alone"


Independent El Mundo editorialized (5/3):  "The voting yesterday proves the complete failure of Sharon and his policy of segregation and selective killings to achieve peace without dialogue with the Palestinians.  The fact that the only support he has left is President Bush proves even more, if that were possible, his stubborn loneliness."




ISRAEL:  "U.S. Expects Sharon To Deliver"


Janine Zacharia commented in the conservative, independent Jerusalem Post (5/5):  "The Bush administration is counting on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to figure out how to push forward with his unilateral disengagement plan--which U.S. President George W. Bush warmly endorsed last month--despite Sunday's rejection of the initiative in a Likud Party referendum.  For now, U.S. officials say they remain confident in Sharon's commitment to with draw settlers from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements, despite his internal political woes.  In the past few days, they have repeatedly pledged to continue to support the plan....  U.S. officials have privately expressed dismay that Sharon did not lobby harder for the plan's passage after Bush, on April 14, extended tremendous political capital by articulating some of Sharon's key demands--implicitly endorsing the idea of Israel holding on to some settlements as part of a final peace deal, and disavowing a right of return for Palestinian refugees to Israel--in order to prop up the Israeli leader."


"The Danger at Home"


Independent, left-leaning Ha'aretz editorialized (5/5):  "The results of the Likud's referendum on the disengagement plan sent shock waves throughout broad segments of the public.  Once again it became evident that the settlers set Israel's agenda....  Nothing stands up against them.  There is no parliamentary or extra-parliamentary movement that forms a counter-balance to the settlers....  And all this happened when a majority of the public actually favors a withdrawal from Gaza and supports reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians, even if it means far-reaching concessions....  When Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reached the proper conclusion and presented the public with a disengagement plan, it may not have been perfect but it could have served as the start of a reconciliation process -- the beginning of a political horizon--and even advanced the settlement cause in the West Bank.  The settlers understood the danger quite clearly and rose up as one to oppose the Sharon plan--and they won.  Now they are in the grip of euphoria with a feeling that they have managed to reconquer the hearts of the Jewish nation.  After the Oslo agreement, the settlers said that while they managed to settle the land, they did not succeed in winning over the hearts of the people.  Now, after the results of the Likud referendum, it turns out that they managed to win over some of those hearts."


"Anything--Except Talks With The PA"


Aluf Benn stated in independent, left-leaning Ha'aretz (5/5):  "Their defeat in the Likud referendum has left Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his men bewildered and flustered.  Sharon is now looking for a new way out of the political thicket to justify his remaining in office....  Tuesday, Sharon's people rejected all the reports of a 'mini plan' consisting of a symbolic evacuation of a few isolated settlements in Gaza and Samaria [the northern West Bank]....  It is also doubtful whether the U.S. Administration, which agreed to give guarantees and undertakings in exchange for an extensive evacuation, would now agree to only part of the payment from Sharon.  If there is a point to a small evacuation it is to 'set the principle' of settlement evacuations.  But it would be hard to get the Likud members' support for this and Labor has already announced that a mini-plan won't be enough for it to support.  Foreign Ministry professionals predicted that if the plan was rejected in the referendum, it would be embraced by the international community, which previously criticized it.  That is exactly what happened yesterday in the statement of the international Quartet, which totally ignored the Likud's decision and called to implement Sharon's plan as a' rare opportunity' to promote peace....  Sharon has no plans--at this stage--of resuming talks with the Palestinians.  He has no intention of contacting Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei. Government sources say the chances of a meeting between Sharon and Qurei are nonexistent.  Sharon bluntly rejected the proposal by Shinui Chairman Yosef Lapid Tuesday to resume the peace negotiations, telling Lapid that there is no point in talking to the PA, because it is not even pretending to fight terrorism."


"The New, Improved Disengagement"


Shimon Shiffer, Nehama Dueck and Itamar Eichner wrote in mass-circulation, pluralist Yediot Aharonot (5/4):  "On the day after the defeat in the disengagement referendum, the Prime Minister's bureau was swamped with calls by registered Likud members who 'beat their breast,' and wanted to give Sharon their support in his difficult moment....  But Sharon was hard at work drafting a new plan: mini-disengagement....  The idea is to put together a disengagement-lite plan, as Sharon's new plan already has been nicknamed in political circles. The new plan will call for Israel to unilaterally remove isolated settlements in the Gaza Strip [and three settlements in the northern West Bank] so as to facilitate improved IDF deployment....  The proposals for a more restricted disengagement plan were presented to the Prime Minister already in the past, but he rejected them.  In any event, Sharon will continue to say in his conversations with the Americans that he has no intention of changing his general conception, which calls for the evacuation of all Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip, but that he will work to achieve that in stages, while securing the support of his political partners."


"An Unnecessary Crisis"


Independent, left-leaning Ha'aretz editorialized (5/4):  "The Likud referendum defeat of the disengagement plan has created a crisis for the Prime Minister--and not only for him.  The political system has been shocked.  In retrospect, it's an easy analysis: Ariel Sharon made a mistake by giving the decision to a tiny minority of the people who mostly take right or even extreme right positions....  Now demands are rising from various political directions that Sharon bring a similar plan to a vote in the government.  The U.S. Administration is also expecting that.  Meanwhile, officials in the EU, whose economic advantages are eyed by Israel, have protested about the decision being made by a tiny minority of the population.  The chances for a renewed political initiative were damaged by the referendum.  After the vote, a false sense of unity prevailed among the victorious Likud ministers.  They won't make Sharon's work any easier when he decides to bring the plan to the government....  The searing failure could create for Sharon more reasons to delay [the presentation of an amended plan].  But there is no justification for that.  The Prime Minister cannot try to gain time while there's a deep political crisis underway.  It is his duty to make clear as soon as possible his intentions regarding his critical political initiative, which is the only one he can push. It may not have had a clear majority in the Likud but it does in the public.  Sharon must fulfill that majority without delay.  If he is deterred, there won't be any more justification to his rule."


"The Courage To Change Before The Advent Of Calamity"


Dan Margalit noted in popular, pluralist Maariv (5/4):  "Condoleezza Rice's door will remain shut in the faces of Dov Weisglass and Giora Eiland unless they come equipped with signed authorization from the cabinet and Knesset that they are empowered to represent Israel--the classic American test of 'being able to deliver the goods.'  They have already proven themselves incapable of delivering anything.  Not even the minimum of Gaza.  That is because Sharon's party has abandoned him....  The Likud's decision was to choose to live by the sword alone--an illusion of pride, and a victory for the Palestinian extremists. The Likud has become the zealots' poodle."


"If I Were A Settler"


Rafi Mann commented in popular, pluralist Maariv (5/4):  "If I were a settler from Neve Dekalim [in the Gaza Strip], I would not celebrate this week, and not only because of the horrific murder of Tali Hatuel and her four daughters. On the contrary: I would begin to worry.  If I were a settler from Kfar Darom, I would not sleep at night.  Ariel Sharon, the founder of the Likud and the father of the settlements, the man who linked the existence of Netzarim to the fate of Tel Aviv, is still convinced that the removal of all the settlements from Gaza, as well as the elimination of the four isolated settlements in the northern West Bank, is vital for national security....  While Sharon failed in the current initiative, he took a significant step forward in 'preparing the hearts' for a meaningful withdrawal from territories and massive settlement removal."


"Plans For Sale"


Akiva Eldar opined in independent, left-leaning Ha'aretz (5/4):  "The latest spin from the Prime Minister's Office is that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will go to Washington for the annual AIPAC [Jewish lobby] conference with a new plan under his arm....  But it is doubtful that the story of the new plan will last even the two weeks to the AIPAC conference, where Sharon at least could bask in the applause of the American Jews.  It also will be very difficult for U.S. President George W. Bush, who has also been invited to speak to the AIPAC conference to try to sell in less than a month another plan meant to save the lives of Israeli children and soldiers.  Even a president under pressure from the Christian as well as Jewish right will find it difficult to attach his letter of promises to Sharon to another Israeli plan....  Sharon will keep Bush's political constraints in mind, and Bush will show understanding for Sharon's problems."


"Selling The Ideology, Too"


Nadav Shragai wrote in independent, left-leaning Ha'aretz (5/4):  "Sharon...made the need for prior coordination with the U.S. almost sacred.  After his meeting with President George W. Bush, Sharon's detractors actually proved that Bush's statements regarding the Arabs' right of return and the settlement blocs were not precedent-setting, and that furthermore they were quite vague, but the discourse was totally lacking the principal question of the United States' proper place in the formulation of Israel's national priorities.  Sharon's behavior in this matter was portrayed as total, bordering on absolute.  The late prime minister Menachem Begin once told then-U.S. ambassador to Israel Samuel Lewis that Israel is not a banana republic and that the Jewish people can make do with bread and margarine. That was during the Lebanon War, but one does not have to be Begin.  It is enough to recall the words of former absorption minister Yuli Tamir, who is not suspected of being 'right-wing,' but who a few weeks ago made a point (at a conference in Jerusalem) about the problematic nature of the absolute subjection of Israeli policy to the considerations of America's interests. Tamir was under the impression that U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice was running the Israeli government."


"The Tail And The Dog"


Nahum Barnea wrote in mass-circulation, pluralist Yediot Aharonot (5/3):  "Only a few weeks ago, when Sharon walked into the trap laid for him by [Likud Agriculture Minister] Yisrael Katz and agreed to a party referendum, he was crowned by all, here and abroad, as a political genius.  Now he has become a laughingstock.   Sharon's truly stinging failure is in the area of leadership.  He reached the conclusion that he must present a plan, but was dragged gradually and unwillingly into the disengagement plan.  When the time came to battle for the plan, he did so halfheartedly and late.  Carried by the momentum of his great victory in the elections and the sweeping support of the U.S. Administration, he could have obtained a majority for the plan in the cabinet and Knesset.  But he was dragged into the referendum.  Don't feel sorry for Sharon: He brought most of his troubles upon himself.  The results of the Likud referendum should arouse concern mainly due to their implications for the country's chances of rehabilitation.  Sharon and his advisers raised a series of reasons for short-term panic on the eve of the vote: a rift with the U.S. Administration, a collapsing economy, and loss of power.  We should hope that they were exaggerating.  The long term is much more worrying.  Under the rule of the Settlers' Council, Israel will sooner or later reach South Africa's situation: first an isolated, ostracized country, hated around the world and abhorred by a large part of its younger generation, and then a binational state.  Despite the failure in the referendum, Sharon is currently the only Israeli politician who can stop this process.  If he still has the appetite to lead, now is the time."


"There is Nobody But Him"


Ben Caspit declared in popular, pluralist Maariv (5/3):  "Ariel Sharon knows it.  His hour of leadership has come. If he can summon up sufficient courage tonight...then tomorrow...he will say the following: 'Ladies and gentlemen, I am the prime minister of everybody....  I have no intention of changing my mind.  There is no alternative to this plan.  I believe that a majority of the nation supports it.  Therefore I am proceeding with it'....  Sharon has no better alternatives.  He is stuck halfway up the mountain with a reinforced concrete wall in front of him.  If he takes his foot off the gas pedal he will roll back into the abyss.  He has to continue full steam, to bang his head on the wall and smash it.  He has to cross this canal.  He knows it and his followers know it.  All he needs now is the guts to do it....  Nobody else can do it, but the question is whether Sharon can.  In Washington, the [U.S.] Administration is waiting to hear what Sharon has to say today.  The Americans expect him to deliver the goods.  In Israel, most of the nation expects him to keep his promise.  Sharon's hour of trial has come.  He cooked this rancid mix and now he has to swallow it in one gulp, wipe his mouth, smile and move on."            


"A Dramatic Defeat"


Conservative, independent Jerusalem Post opined (5/3):  "Yesterday we urged Likud voters to vote yes on the party referendum on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan.  Judging from initial exit polls, the referendum has gone down to a dramatic defeat.  Given this result, Sharon's gamble that he could poll his own party as a surrogate for the national will was singularly misplaced....  The plan, after all, is difficult to distinguish from that put forward by Sharon's rival in the 2003 elections, Labor Party leader Amram Mitzna.  Sharon won handily opposing that plan, and his own Likud voters deeply opposed any unilateral concessions, let alone the unilateral dismantling of settlements.  What has changed is Sharon's acquiescence to U.S. opposition to forcibly removing Yasser Arafat, combined with a U.S. willingness to proffer significant diplomatic dividends in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal. Just because these changes were sufficient to change Sharon's mind does not mean that he could persuade the core of the natural opposition to his move to go along....  At this point, given the rejection of his party and the extent to which he strayed from his election mandate, Sharon should seek approval through some form of national vote.  Assuming that Sharon moves forward in this vein, the U.S. and Europe should understand that, if they want Israel to unilaterally evacuate settlements, they need to reinforce the understandings reached between him and George W. Bush.  If these diplomatic gains are allowed to dissipate, the plan will be seen by Israelis and Palestinians as a clear victory for terrorism, will quickly lose its support in Israel, and will never be implemented."


"Survival Government"


Dan Margalit maintained in popular, pluralist Maariv (5/3):  "Were Israel a properly run country, Ariel Sharon would resign from office....  Just as Sharon understood from the pinnacle of his office as prime minister what the people truly needed, there is some chance that his successor will walk in his footsteps too.  Alternatively, were Israel a properly run country, Sharon would not resign, but would introduce his disengagement plan to the cabinet despite his frivolously made commitment to his party members that he would do as they ordered....  Were Israel a properly run and life-loving country, the responsible minority would assure him a safety net, and not only on foreign policy matters, irrespective of whether the Labor Party is part of the coalition or not....  But that is the way things would be only were Israel a properly run country.  None of the above scenarios will play out.  Those politicians are enervated, weary, 'can these bones live?' [Ezekiel 39:3]  As such, Sunday the Likud members sentenced Israelis--with their complacency, by their decision to abstain en mass from voting--to the continued existence of a coalition government headed by a lame duck.  What will he offer in the next round to George W. Bush?  And what to Tony Blair?  And to Yasser Arafat or his successor? Nothing.  We will have a frightened, initiative-less, defensive, cringing government that will only focus on its own survival."


"Maybe Likud Can, But Doesn't Want To"


Akiva Eldar stated left-leaning, independent Ha'aretz (5/3):  "The following lines can be written even before we know whether a little more than half the Likud members supported the disengagement plan, or whether a little more than half dropped an against vote into the ballot box. It is already possible to state that the idea that 'only the Likud can' is dead.  Likud members and their leaders have refuted the 'peace camp's' assumption that only the Right can evacuate settlements and bring peace....  The disengagement referendum enables the parties left of Likud to go to the broad public that supports a compromise and prove to it that compromise and the Right are mutually exclusive....  The disengagement referendum ought to disengage the peace camp once and for all from its delusion that 'only the Likud can.'  Perhaps the Likud can, but the Likud surely does not want to."


"Democracy Beat The Sharonos"


Editor-in-Chief Gonen Ginat remarked in nationalist, Orthodox Hatzofe (5/3):  "The Likud has a....clear platform: it rejects conceding settlements and is strenuously opposed to a Palestinian state.  What Ariel Sharon did was an attempt to steal a party....  Sharon actually accused [the Likud right-wingers] of stealing the party.  In fact, those had remained faithful to [the party's] platform and voters.  This was the victory of honest people....over the Sharons' Mafia practices.  Behind their back, at the Prime Minister's Office, the latter are called the 'Sharonos' (rhyming with 'The Sopranos').  A fistful of youth from the territories has proved that it can defeat Sharonian aggressiveness: this inspires hope; we have a future....  In the next few days, we'll find out that a least some of [Sharon's] threats were empty....starting with the claim that the U.S. had agreed to the annexation of blocs of settlements and ending with keeping Sharon's agreement to freeze construction in the territories secret. Together with disengagement, we are likely to succeed in getting rid of bizarre commitments Sharon took upon himself, including providing aerial photographs of the settlements in the territories."


WEST BANK:  "Sharon's Defeat Before His Party"


Ahmed Majdalani noted in independent Al-Ayyam (5/5):  "President Bush, who offered Sharon complete political support with the hope that he might get financial, media and electoral support from Zionist lobbying groups, has lost the deal...and will be facing a difficult choice as to whether to continue to back a non-existent political plan, rejected by the other side in the struggle, or to change his position and retract his letter of assurances to Sharon....  In light of recent developments, the PA leadership should take a firm position calling for transferring the case from the hands of the U.S., which lost credibility as a key and honest mediator in the peace the UN, and the convening of an international peace conference in the Middle East."


"Voices The White House Must Listen To"


Independent Al-Quds editorialized (5/5):  "The American diplomats who sent President Bush a letter criticizing his absolute support for the policy of settlement expansion and use of excessive military force against Palestinians...have put their finger on the real problem and the source of the dangerousness of American policy to the region.  [The latter is embodied in] Washington's change of role from an honest and objective mediator over the past two decades into a loyal ally to Israel, frustrating all just Palestinian national aspirations and obstructing the peace process....  While the State Department regards U.S. policy in the region on the basis of American interests on the one hand, and the potential influence of this policy on the American image in the world on the other, the White House and Congress view American policy toward the Middle East and the Palestinian cause as nothing more than an opportunity to gain Jewish votes in election campaigns."


"The Vendor, The Buyer And The Goods"


Jawad Bashiti remarked in independent Al-Ayyam (5/5):  "In order to satisfy Sharon and support him in his struggle against his Likud opponents, and in order to have Sharon satisfied about him so that he can win against his opponent Kerry, President Bush honored Sharon by ratifying Israel’s right to annex bigger settlement blocs in the West Bank and by rejecting any solution to the Palestinian refugee issue allowing the right of return....  I now reckon that Bush is worried that the defeated Sharon might play a 'dirty' game since the Israeli PM seems confident that Bush will not dare retract the letter of assurances even if he [Sharon] decides to 'disengage' from his plan....  In other words, Sharon now doesn't mind distorting his plan, which distorted the Roadmap, in order to regain the power he lost in the Likud referendum....  President Bush has sold his letter of assurances to Sharon, but Sharon, the buyer, is now thinking that the vendor [Bush] dares not ask to get the 'goods' back after [Sharon] was supposed to [and didn’t] pay a rock-bottom price for them."


"Following The Severe Defeat, Whither Sharon?"


Hani Masri opined in independent Al-Ayyam (5/4):  "Sharon received a big slap when 60% of the Likud participants in the referendum said no to the disengagement plan....  Sharon was confident [at first] that he would win when Bush granted him the letter of assurances by which the American administration changed its traditional historical position of supporting Israel to one of complete support for only one Israeli party.  Destiny has mocked both Bush and his ally Sharon; poll results showed that the U.S., being the great power, humiliated itself and undermined its role when it struck at the foundations of the peace process, international law, international legitimacy resolutions, Palestinian-Israeli agreements and the Roadmap....  Following this huge loss, what will Sharon do?"


"Getting Palestinians Past The Bush-Sharon Barriers"


Muhammad Inayah commented in independent Al-Quds (5/4):  "The U.S's the Middle East has become extremely weak due to its irregular policies, which Sharon and his Likud party draw up for them....  Palestinians must work on achieving two goals: adhering to their political unity and modifying their Palestinian-Arab relationship.  According to the Bush-Sharon alliance, Palestinians are politically divided into two groups, terrorist groups and powerless ones, and that's to isolate them politically, to facilitate stealing their land and to ignore their rights."


EGYPT:  "Total Civil Disobedience"


Nobel Prize Laureate Nagib Mahfouz declared in leading, pro-government Al-Ahram (5/4):  "In order to counter Israeli escalation, Palestinians could declare a state of total civil disobedience on every inch of land internationally recognized as theirs, or disband their national authority and ask the UN to take charge....  By threatening to liquidate Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, Ariel Sharon makes it clear that he wants to eliminate all resistance figures in the Occupied Territories, deprive the Palestinians of the one leadership they agree on and foment violence and instability....  Sharon's actions are those of a man interested in grabbing land, not peace....  Had Sharon detained Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel-Aziz Rantissi, the hope for a negotiated peace would not have been so categorically snuffed, but this is what he wanted....  The Palestinians are dying, not because they want the violence to continue, but because they want their land....  This is what George W. Bush failed to grasp when he absolved Sharon, with written guarantees, from commitments to the 1967 borders and the refugees....  Land is what the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is about, the violence is a by-product....  If Israel committed itself to removing all settlements from the Occupied Territories unconditionally, the violence would fade away....  Sharon's policies, and his constant threats to Arafat, take the violence to unthinkable dimensions and push the region to the brink of war."


SAUDI ARABIA:  "Contempt For Counsel"


The pro-government English-language Arab News held (5/5):  "Fifty-three retired US diplomats have followed the example of their former British colleagues and written an open letter criticizing Bush Middle East policy. But unlike the UK diplomats, the Americans, who include a former ambassador to the Kingdom, have focused on Bush’s unilateral tearing up of the Palestinian road map. Once again experts on whom in normal times a US administration would be expected to rely for sound advice have underlined that Bush White House policies are ill-informed knee-jerk reactions which in their ignorance of the subtleties of regional politics are only making a bad situation worse.  The Likud party’s rejection of Sharon’s plan to evacuate the Gaza Strip but annex large parts of the West Bank demonstrates how vacuous White House planning is....  Fundamentalist Zionists within the party would throw out decisively any attempt to give up an inch of what they see as Greater Israel....  The only winners of course are the Israelis. There was disbelief among top Zionists when Sharon returned last month from Washington with more than the Israeli government could ever have hoped for. If it turns out to have been a confidence trick by Sharon, designed to alienate the United States from the Arab world and leave it with Israel as its sole friend in the Middle East, it will be one of the most masterful diplomatic coups ever....  This shortsighted president has perpetrated one serious gaffe after another. History may judge Bush grossly incompetent. Will US voters have the same insight come November?"


"U.S. Support For Sharon’s Ambitions"


Riyadh’s moderate Al-Jazirah opined (5/4):  "Washington understands that Sharon’s Gaza plan has killed the roadmap, which Washington supported and designed....  By endorsing Sharon’s plan, Washington actually agrees that Sharon by himself can determine the fate of the Palestinian people....  Furthermore, the U.S.' attitude encourages and nourishes the struggle and spread of violence."  


JORDAN:  "A Way Out Of The Corner"


The independent, English-language elite Jordan Times declared (5/4):  "Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon should have been the first to acknowledge that the greater majority of his own Likud Party will reject his so-called unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the dismantling of the Jewish settlements there. So why did he turn to his own hardline party members for endorsement of his plan when the outcome was known or should have been known all along?....  Had Sharon been more serious and determined to withdraw his forces and dismantle settlements housing a few thousand Israelis, he would have opted to go ahead with this plan without creating obstacles along the way.  Better still, since the decision to withdraw is a national decision that all Israelis should be allowed to voice their position on, why not go to the Israeli public at large and hold a national referendum....  Sharon need not hold any referendum on the issue of withdrawal from Palestinian lands. The Israeli prime minister is not seeking a green light to secede from Israeli territory. All that he is seeking to do is to withdraw from only part of the occupied territories....  Of course, the killing of an Israeli settler and her children while Israelis were voting on the Gaza disengagement did not help. The Palestinian militants who did the killing and got themselves killed in the process should have realised by now that killing women and children is not the kind of message that they need to give the international community. There is nothing Islamic about taking the lives of children. Nor is it going to help the process of finding a peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli problem....  Sharon should be wise to withdraw. Palestinians should, following such withdrawal, build the infrastructure and the civil society that will show them as a mature nation ready to take its destiny in its own hands."


“Sharon’s Plan:  For Execution Or For International Consumption?”


Sultan Hattab asked in semi-official, influential Arabic-language Al-Rai (5/4):  “What Sharon wanted to achieve from his plan has been achieved.  Those who believed that Sharon would withdraw from Gaza and evacuate 21 settlements are disillusioned.  The man is the father of settlements.  What he did when he claimed that he would withdraw from Gaza unilaterally is simply establish a temporary political stand to be sold to the U.S. administration prior to Arab leaders’ visits, and to snatch guarantees never before achieved by Israel, for these guarantees have wiped out the basic rights of the Palestinian people, particularly their right of return....  So everyone now returns to square one: no withdrawal, no peace projects, and no stop to occupation measures that claim the lives of Palestinian citizens, kill their children, demolish their homes, and assassinate their activists....  The plan is originally a ploy to get rid of the roadmap and international pressure and to obtain guarantees.”


“Sharon’s Poll, Extremism And Moderation”


Yaser Za’atreh wrote in center-left, influential Arabic-language Al-Dustour (5/4):  “When Sharon proposed his plan for unilateral withdrawal, he was in the worst situation since his coming to power....  For Sharon, the plan constituted the life preserver on which he could escape the potential miserable political ending that had haunted him for months since the American failure in Iraq became evident and promises of bringing about Arab submission, including that of the Palestinians, started to evaporate.  To confirm his leadership in the Likud and in Israel and to prevent being outbid by the extremist party, Sharon initiated the poll, believing that he could succeed, particularly in view of the exceptional American support that he expected and actually did get.  In view of his disappointment in the poll, we could say that what happened was not so disastrous.  It may have brought Sharon some benefit, since he now has the image of a moderate man facing extremists from his party who do not understand his political moves, and this would bring him even more sympathy from the outside.”


LEBANON:  “Strategy”


Rafiq Khoury wrote in centrist Al-Anwar (5/4):  “Following Likud’s rejection of Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, there is nothing but questions!  Many thought that Sharon would be much more radical than his party, however, the referendum proved that his Party is much more radical...the question, however, is:  Should Arabs continue to wait for Israel’s decisions and choices?  What are the Arab capitals planning to do?  It is really pathetic for Arabs to continue to wait for what the others might do....  President Assad put his finger on the right spot when he asked:  What are the Arabs doing?  What do we do between one summit and the next?  How can we expect to confront challenges when we take decisions without coming up with a mechanism for follow up and implementation?....  We should always ask ourselves:  What are we doing?”


SYRIA:  "International Resolutions Cannot Revoked By Referendum Or Promise"


An unsigned editorial in government-owned Tishreen said (5/5):  "How could President Bush authorizes himself to cancel three UNSC resolutions: 194, 242 and 338? How could the Palestinian cause be linked with a Likud referendum....  Erasing international resolutions torpedoes international norms and imposes a law of jungle....  Palestinian rights are only the Palestinian people's property, and no one ever has the right to control them....  But this does not exempt the US of its responsibility to defend international law and enable Palestinians to get their national rights."


UAE:  "Likud Puts Sharon In A Dilemma"


The expatriate-oriented English-language Gulf News declared (5/4):  "It would be pleasant to think that the Likud Party vote against the withdrawal plan of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was due to altruism on the part of the Israelis, but that would be wishful thinking. For it is not that which caused the collapse of Sharon's proposal to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and some parts of the West Bank. What motivated the voters--those who turned up anyway, since only 35 per cent of party members did so--was a number of reasons, but altruism was not among them.  Some Likud Party members had worried at the risk Sharon was taking in putting his plan to the vote. There was also concern that pulling out of Gaza, albeit by the end of 2005, would send a signal to the Palestinians that violence pays, for they have achieved Israeli withdrawal. Equally, there were more extreme right-wing members of the Likud Party who are strongly opposed to any withdrawal, because they prefer to see the elimination of the Palestinians, or their removal to another Arab country.  Sharon's future is not at risk, since the majority of the Israeli public, according to poll surveys, agree with his proposals. Whether Sharon decides to now hold a nation-wide referendum on the issue remains to be seen. Certainly there are fellow cabinet members and opposition members who would prefer to have the issue discussed in the Knesset (parliament), but that may not be the route chosen by Sharon.  How saddening it is that the future of Palestine is being decided by a minority faction in Israel: the very people who have no right to take such decisions over the future of Palestinians. For the way forward is through one process--the roadmap proposed by the Quartet: the UN, the EU, Russia and the US."


"Bigger Bigot Than Thou"


The expatriate-oriented English-language Khaleej Times held (5/4):  "Where does Ariel Sharon go from here? Although a red-faced Sharon has vowed to stay the course (as Bush would put it), it is clear that the game is up for the Zionist leader. By rejecting his ‘disengagement’ plan, the Likud party has dealt him a mortal blow....  The stinging verdict of the referendum is sure to spark a massive rebellion in his rabid, right-wing party forcing the Israeli leader out of power. There are lessons for everyone in this episode. Firstly, the extent of radicalisation of Israeli establishment and Likud Party belies the West’s misplaced trust that Israel’s mainstream parties are genuinely interested in resolving this conflict and promoting peace in the region. Secondly, the Palestinians and Arab-Muslim world must now pressure the United Nations and the Mid East quartet to push for a negotiated settlement. The U.S. in particular, having backed Sharon’s outrageous proposal, has to play the role of a just and honest broker for enduring peace. In a blatant show of unilateralism, President Bush chose to endorse the Sharon plan even before it was put to vote in Israel. The move ripped apart the ‘roadmap’, which was the only point of reference between the Israelis and the Palestinians. This referendum demonstrates that any plan that does not have a clear popular mandate is doomed to fail. No amount of international backing and endorsement, even from a superpower, can wish it otherwise."


"Reject Sharon Plan"


The English-language expatriate-oriented Khaleej Times declared (5/2):  "Israel's Likud Party sets out to vote on Ariel Sharon’s so-called disengagement plan today. The rabid Zionist party’s ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote will determine the future of Sharon and the Jewish state. If the party favours the plan, nothing can stop the Israeli leader from going ahead with his pullout plan by withdrawing troops from the Gaza Strip and evacuating the 21 Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory.  On the other hand, if the party rejects the Sharon plan, there would be two immediate and disastrous consequences: Firstly, the Israeli leader, having turned this referendum into a trust vote on his leadership, will be forced to bow out. Secondly, a rejection vote will trigger a constitutional and political crisis in the Jewish state. Significantly, four opinion polls published on Friday predicted that Likud members are set to reject the plan by a margin of between one and seven percentage points. Whatever the referendum outcome, poor Palestinians are in for more trouble and suffering. If Likud party gives a ‘go-ahead’ mandate, Sharon will lose no time in pushing ahead with his plan to formally annex Palestinian land in the West Bank further compounding Palestinians’ problems. A rejection vote by the governing party, on the other hand, will mean more of the current political uncertainty, chaos and bloodshed for the indigenous population of Palestinians. The only way out of the mess is a just and acceptable peace deal brokered by the international community. Later this week, when UN Secretary general Kofi Annan convenes the meeting of the Middle East peace quartet of UN, U.S., EU and Russia, he must push these key players to reject Sharon plan and renew efforts for a negotiated, peaceful and just resolution of this conundrum. Unilateral, bullying and backdoor tactics cannot bring peace to Mideast."




CHINA (HONG KONG SAR):  "Roadmap's Architects Must Step Up Pressure"


The independent English-language South China Morning Post said (5/4):  "Right-wing members of Israel's Likud Party have defeated a plan for a total withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and limited withdrawal from the West Bank--because it was too generous to Palestinians.  Their action speaks volumes about how much the situation has degenerated since the road map for peace was introduced this time last year....  As much as Likud and its hardline approach are part of the problem, the Palestinians and their leadership have not been blameless. Promises to end support for armed militants have not been met, while the proposed Gaza withdrawal resulted only in more aggressive attacks on Israelis.  The intifada, or uprising, has done nothing to improve life for the ordinary impoverished Palestinian, while the Palestinian Authority has failed to elevate leaders acceptable to Israeli negotiators....  Mr. Sharon, for his part, has vowed to stick with his plans for withdrawing from Gaza and building the West Bank security fence that the UN says will hurt hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.  Whether he will now seek approval through a national referendum, a reshuffled cabinet or a new coalition with the Labor Party, the withdrawals could be on hold for many months.  The poll defeat is a worrying sign of the intransigence of Israel's right wing.  But it could also be a chance to derail the disengagement proposal for good.  Those who are in a position to push this cause--primarily the road map's architects--should now step up the pressure and argue for a return to negotiations."


INDONESIA:  “For Sharon Referendum Result Is Not Political Defeat”


Leading independent Kompas observed (5/5):  "The results of the referendum...indicated that the Israelis rejected Sharon’s plan to close Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.  But Sharon did not see it as a political defeat. Sharon continues to make political maneuvers so his plan will not be cancelled, only changed.  Moreover, the U.S. and Britain have supported him....  Without heeding international opinion and the ownership right of the Palestinians, Israel has demonstrated a defiant attitude shown in the results of the referendum.  They have no desire to hand over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip they occupied since 1967 to the Palestinians, the owner....  The closure of some of the settlements will not, whatsoever, give any meaning to the struggle of the Palestinians.  Even if all the settlements were closed, the chance for the Palestinians to regain their territories remains unlikely so long as Israel does not end its 37 year occupation....  Inevitably, the one-sidedness of the U.S. and its allies [for the Israelis] will only add to Palestinians’ anger.  Bush and Blair’s statement to support Sharon’s plan constitutes a very sensitive issue to Palestinains.”  


INDIA:   "Gaza:  Pullout Or Consolidation"


Praful Bidwai concluded in the centrist Hindu (5/3):  "This week marks a turning point for Israel and its settlements in the Palestinian territories it occupies--a cardinal issue in this crisis-ridden, turbulent, unhappy land....  The referendum held on Sunday within Sharon's Right-wing Likud Party will provide a first, tentative answer. Going by opinion polls, the dice seem loaded against the pullout. But whatever the verdict, and however Sharon acts on it, the Palestinian crisis will worsen....  Even if Israel evacuates the settlements and its troops, Gaza will not be free of Israel's suzerainty....  Israel will control Gaza's airspace, seacoast and land approaches.  The Israeli plan is to trade "disengagement" for the indefinite preservation of most of the 120 settlements in the West Bank....  One of the main objectives of 'disengagement' is to avoid and bypass a political process or negotiated settlement of the Palestinian question. As Sharon himself put it, the withdrawal would severely harm Palestinians and end their dream of a Palestinian state....  Ultra-conservative Israelis see disengagement as betrayal....  They see it as violating Mr. Sharon's established strategy: the best response to pressure to give up occupied territories is to further expand the settlements! By contrast, most Palestinians are livid at the plan and its uncritical approval by Bush, itself linked to the declaration that the Palestinian refugees displaced during Israel's creation in 1948 cannot return to their homes....  The Sharon-Bush declaration has deeply offended the Palestinians and strengthened far-Right forces in the Government."




BRAZIL:  “Israel Adrift"


Center-right O Globo held (5/4):  "The outcome of Likud’s internal referendum...shows a divided, confused country.  Prime-Minister Sharon, like most of his countrymen, wants Israel outside of Gaza even without an accord with the Palestinians--a plan rejected by the Prime Minister’s coreligionists at last Sunday’s polls.  What wing of the Israeli society does Sharon represent if he disagrees with the will of Likud’s majority?  And in the name of whom does he rule if his party doesn't reflect the will of the people’s majority?”


"Sharon's Defeat"


Center-right O Estado de S. Paulo said (5/4):  "Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's defeat may have positive ramifications in the search for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict....  The only alternative is the renewal of the peace process through the resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which have been paralyzed by violence since Sharon's election and the beginning of the second Intifada.  These negotiations, however, should no longer follow the lines of the exhausted gradualist model of the Oslo talks, which was also adopted for the almost-forgotten Road Map of 2003....  A more consistent starting point is the Geneva Accord of December 2003...which incorporates many of the proposals presented by then-President Clinton in 2000....  The accord is an auspicious one, but will not work as long as Sharon remains in the government and as long as the U.S. provides blind support to the Israeli right wing."


"Tactical Mistake"


Liberal Folha de S. Paulo concluded (5/4):  "Prime Minister Ariel Sharon bluffed and lost....  One cannot discard the possibility that other leaders may take advantage of Sharon's weakness to force new elections....  Sharon made at least a tactical mistake. His plan has many serious problems, but it has the merit of dismantling the settlements in Gaza, which is a necessary, but not sufficient, step towards peace with the Palestinians. This idea is now running the risk of being lost."



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