JERUSALEM (CNN) # The Israeli Cabinet voted Sunday to accept the U.S.-supported road map to peace that would lead to a Palestinian state within three years.
The vote was 12-7 with four abstentions. A formal statement from the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was expected later Sunday. The 23-member Cabinet began debating the plan Sunday morning.
The Palestinian Authority accepted the plan last month after it was drafted by the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, the so-called Mideast Quartet.
Palestinian officials expressed guarded optimism over the vote and called for the map’s immediate implementation.
The first of its three phases would involve the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian zones reoccupied during the current intifada and a freeze on settlement activity in the West Bank and Gaza.
Palestinian officials would be required to crack down on militant groups that have carried out attacks against Israelis.
Sharon was quoted Sunday by the daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth as saying it was time to reach a deal with the Palestinians.
“The time has come to say yes to the Americans, the time has come to divide this land between us and the Palestinians,” the paper quoted Sharon as saying.
“No one is going to teach me about the strips of land that we will be asked to leave. I am no less connected to them from those who are speaking from up high.”
Sharon was initially reluctant to endorse the plan, but did so Friday after Washington promised to address Israeli concerns, particularly the Palestinian demand that refugees have the “right of return” to Israel.
The first meeting between Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas could come within 48 hours, Palestinian sources said.
A summit between Sharon and Abbas hosted by President Bush could be called within 10 days. The Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, is a leading possibility for such a summit.