Palestinians will give up their goal of independence and push instead for a single Arab-Jewish state if Israel carries out its threat to unilaterally impose a new boundary with Palestinian areas, the Palestinian premier said Thursday.
A single country including Gaza, the West Bank and Israel would spell disaster for the Jewish state because the country would soon have an Arab majority.
That would force Israel to choose between giving Palestinians the right to vote and risk losing the country’s Jewish character, or becoming a minority-ruled country like apartheid South Africa.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell immediately rejected the idea of a single state on Thursday, saying only a two-country solution to the violence would work.
For years, Israeli doves have cited the “demographic issue” in their calls for Israel to relinquish control of all or most of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In recent weeks, Sharon and his top deputy, Ehud Olmert, have begun making the same argument # a major shift by leaders of the hawkish Likud Party.
About 3.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and Gaza, in addition to 1.2 million Arab citizens of Israel. About 5.5 million Jews live in Israel.
The past decade of Israel-Palestinian peace efforts has always been based on a two-state solution. The latest peace plan # the U.S.-backed “road map” # leads to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza by 2005. Abandoning that concept could throw Mideast politics into turmoil.
Sharon has said that if peace talks do not show progress in the coming months, he will order “unilateral disengagement.” This would entail imposing a temporary boundary in the West Bank and removing some Jewish settlements from areas to be evacuated.
Sharon has said his plan is meant to improve Israel’s security.
Palestinians charge that the plan amounts to Israel’s taking over large chunks of the West Bank. Specifically, they point to the route of a separation barrier Israel is already building.
Its planned route would cut deep into the West Bank in several places to include some Jewish settlements on the “Israeli” side. Other Palestinian areas would be encircled by Israeli territory.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia told The Associated Press that such moves would make the drive for a Palestinian state a “meaningless slogan.”
“If the situation continues as it is now we will go for the one-state solution,” he said.
Qureia said the binational state idea is his own idea, not official policy, though he said Palestinians suggested it shortly after Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war.
Powell, speaking in Washington, said a single country would not be viable.
“We’re committed to a two-state solution,” Powell said in Washington. “I believe that’s the only solution that will work: a state for the Palestinian people called Palestine and a Jewish state, state of Israel, which exists.”
Some Israeli analysts and politicians have said that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s goal has always been a single state eventually dominated by Palestinians.
Arafat has often declared that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be decided by the higher Palestinian birth rate.
That shows “there is no real desire on the part of the Palestinians to create a state here and now,” said Efraim Halevy, former head of the Mossad secret service.
However, Arafat has said repeatedly over the past decade that he is committed to the agreements his signed with Israel, leading to a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Adopting the demographic argument, Sharon this week told members of his hard-line Likud Party that any peace accord would require removal of some Jewish settlements in the West Bank and creation of a Palestinian state.
The party officially rejects creation of such a state and has always backed expansion of settlements as part of an Israeli claim on the territory.
Sharon also said that some settlements would have to be moved under his unilateral disengagement plan.
Polls show Sharon’s proposals enjoy considerable support among Israelis.
In Israeli-Palestinian violence Thursday, undercover Israeli troops shot and killed a militant from the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, affiliated with Arafat’s Fatah movement, near the West Bank city of Jenin, militants and military officials said.
Military sources said the man was shot while trying to escape an arrest attempt. Al Aqsa vowed to retaliate.
Also Thursday, Israeli troops shot and killed a 42-year-old Palestinian man in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, hospital officials said. The Israeli military had no immediate comment.