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Sharon: ´We are on verge of historic breakthrough´ (JERUSALEM POST) By HERB KEINON 01/28/05)Source: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1106796049396&p=1078027574097 JERUSALEM POST JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, not prone to exaggerated optimism when it comes to the Palestinian Authority, made his most upbeat assessment of the situation to date on Thursday, saying he believes conditions are now ripe for a "historic" breakthrough.

"I believe that the conditions have been created which will enable us and the Palestinians to reach a historic breakthrough in relations between us, a breakthrough which would lead us towards quiet and security and – in the future – even the hoped-for peace," Sharon said at a conference of the Contractors Association in Tel Aviv.

"We deserve this, all of us," he added. "I want to say that we are seeing encouraging signs, but these matters must be put to the test."

Sharon´s uncharacteristically upbeat assessment came on the eve of a visit by his top aide, Dov Weisglass, to Washington for a meeting with new US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her replacement as national security adviser, Stephen Hadley.

Sharon, in a marked departure from his standard comments that the PA is doing nothing to fight terrorism, told the Contractors Association: "We are monitoring recent developments in the Palestinian Authority with great interest, and it seems that there is a positive approach there regarding the war on terrorism and advancing the diplomatic process."

Sharon, who is now expected to meet PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in some two weeks to talk about a range of issues, said: "If the Palestinians take comprehensive action to stop the terrorism, violence and incitement, we will be able to move forward in contacts on implementing the road map and it would even be possible to coordinate with them on various actions regarding the disengagement plan."

At the same time, Sharon seemed to deflate Palestinian hopes that he would release hundreds, if not thousands, of Palestinian prisoners and make other gestures to the PA, saying: "We are prepared to go far, we are prepared to make concessions, but in one area we will not make concessions – in the area of security for the State of Israel and its citizens."

One senior diplomatic official said the quiet that Abbas is providing will be repaid with quiet by Israel.

"The demand for a prisoner release is a transparent move," the official said. "They are trying to create the image that now that there is quiet, everything is okay and we can we can jump into final status talks and bypass all the steps in the road map."

The official said that while the relative quiet of the last week is welcome, it does not obviate the Palestinian need to stop incitement, confiscate weapons, make arrests and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure.

"There will be no discounts," the official said. "If they take comprehensive action we will move ahead. For the quiet we see now we will pay with quiet of our own."

This message, according to officials, was passed on to US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs William Burns, who met Sharon Thursday. Burns also met earlier with Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya´alon and National Security Council head Giora Eiland, as well as with Abbas and PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei.

Israeli officials said Burns was pleased with the recent developments and expressed satisfaction regarding the moves the Palestinians are taking in the Gaza Strip and with the restraint Israel showed in Gaza last week.

Sharon told Burns that Israel is willing to discuss transferring control of a number of West Bank cites to PA security control, as was planned over a year ago, but only on condition that the PA demonstrates it is able to exert control over those cities. (© 1995- 2005, The Jerusalem Post 01/28/05)

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