Q&A: Ariel Sharon
A 'Fateful Step'
Will Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's bold decision to withdraw Israeli settlers and soldiers from Gaza move the fitful peace process ahead? Now Sharon sits in his Jerusalem office, assailed by critics from his Likud party who claim that the disengagement has left his country in mortal danger -- indeed, some Likud members want to oust him. In Gaza City, all eyes are on Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to see if he can control the terrorist groups, combat corruption and improve the lives of his people. Last week, Newsweek-Washington Post's Lally Weymouth interviewed Sharon and Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen. Here are excerpts of her interview with Sharon.
Lally Weymouth: Why did you decide that disengagement is the right thing to do?
Ariel Sharon : I saw that it was very important to take this decision. I never thought there would be any possibility that a small Jewish minority in Gaza -- seven or eight thousand Israelis, [living] among 1.2 million Palestinians whose numbers double every generation -- might become a majority or [establish] a place that could be an integral part of the state of Israel.
What is next in the peace process?
No one can impose upon Israel any plan, only what has been agreed upon, such as the road map [put forth by the Bush administration in 2002].
So that's where you would go next, to phase one of the road map?
Yes, the only plan that exists is the road map. We are not in the road map yet. We are in the pre-road map phase now. To enter the road map, there should be a full cessation of terror, hostilities and incitement. The Palestinian Authority should dismantle the terrorist organizations, collect their weapons and implement serious reforms in [the] security [services]. Once they take these steps, we will be able to start negotiations along the road map plan.
But the road map calls for the Palestinians to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism in phase one.
To start the road map negotiations, they have to first dismantle the terrorist organizations and cease terrorism, so it's not an automatic thing.
You mean Hamas and company?
Yes. Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, but there are other terrorist organizations there. When we leave [Gaza], our reaction if terror will continue will be very, very hard. Once we're not there . . . they don't have any reason to continue shooting.
Benjamin Netanyahu is challenging you inside your own party, the Likud. Will you stay and fight or form another party?