GANEI TAL, Gaza Strip – Outraged Jewish settlers on Friday denounced as a betrayal Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's (search) intention to move some settlements as part of a plan to separate from the Palestinians if peace efforts remain stuck.
Sharon's "disengagement plan" — which would draw a temporary border in the West Bank without negotiations and speed up construction of a controversial security barrier — angered Palestinians, who would be get less land than they seek in negotiations.
After Sharon announced his plans, the United States said Thursday that it opposes any Israeli go-it-alone policy, insisting it stick to the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan (search) calling for incremental steps leading to a Palestinian state by 2005.
On Friday, the White House noted that Sharon underlined his support for the road map and showed a willingness to carry out some Israeli obligations under the plan.
"We were very pleased with the overall speech by Prime Minister Sharon. He reiterated and reaffirmed his strong support for the roadmap," spokesman Scott McClellan said. "We are working hard with the parties to move forward to make progress on the road map."
In his major policy speech Thursday, Sharon said he supported the road map but warned he would implement his unilateral plan in a matter of months unless the Palestinians crack down on militant groups and take other steps required under the road map. Neither side has fulfilled commitments under the road map's first stage.
Under Sharon's plan, Israel would withdraw from part of the territories but not all the way to the lines its soldiers crossed in the 1967 Mideast War. That would leave the Palestinians with "much less" territory than they would have received from direct negotiations, Sharon said.
Some Jewish settlements would have to be moved to reduce the number of Israelis living close to large Palestinian population centers, Sharon said without specifying which settlements would be relocated or to where.
That prospect angered many in the powerful community of 220,000 Israelis living in the 150 settlements built in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, territories the Palestinians want for a future state.
Rivka Goldschmidt, resident of Gaza's Ganei Tal settlement (search), called Sharon's plan "a surrender to terror."
She said any Israeli forces coming to dismantle the community would face an angry confrontation.
"We will not do anything illegal, but we will not give in easily," Goldschmidt, 52, said, as she prepared for the Sabbath and readied candles for the first night of Hanukkah. "We will give him (Sharon) a hard time."
For settlers, it was a betrayal from a man who was an architect of the settlement movement and one of its strongest proponents over three decades as a politician.
"It is sad that a man who sends his soldiers to the Zionist front suddenly, one day stabs them in the back. It is strange and unfortunate," said Uri Ariel, a lawmaker and a veteran leader of settlers in the West Bank.
Palestinians were also sharply critical. Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (search) called for negotiations and bristled at Sharon's threats.
"These are ultimately dangerous words, and this type of talk is simply not acceptable," Qureia told The Associated Press. Qureia is trying to end violence through negotiation and has said he will not confront militants with force.
In Gaza City, the Islamic militant group Hamas put on a show of strength, with thousands of supporters joining a street rally after Friday's Muslim prayers.
Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi dismissed Sharon's speech and suggested a partial Israeli pullback would not stop the violent campaign Hamas and other militant groups have carried out.
"You should know that we are the owners of this land," he told The Associated Press. "There will be no security or stability until we get our rights, until we liberate the land."
The European Union, meanwhile, also warned Israel against unilateral moves, saying they would not help end the conflict.
"What is urgently required is that courageous and bold steps be taken in parallel by both sides for the effective implementation of the roadmap," said Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief.
Sharon gave the outlines of his plans in a much-anticipated speech Thursday in the Tel Aviv suburb of Herzliya after days of hinting at his new unilateral approach. The prime minister's popularity has plummeted in recent months as the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan stalled and pressure has increased — from Israeli military commanders as well as the public and international leaders — for him to take action to end three years of violent conflict.
Sharon didn't say where the temporary border would lie, but he said part of it would be defined by the West Bank security fence. Part of the plan would be to speed up construction of the massive barrier of fences, walls and trenches aimed at sealing off the West Bank. Israel says the barrier is meant to block suicide bombers, but its route dips deep into the West Bank, infuriating Palestinians and drawing U.S. criticism.
Criticism of the program was also fired from the dovish opposition, which supports dividing Israelis and Palestinians into two states, but through a process of negotiations, not one-sided imposition.
"Shockingly late, he (Sharon) has begun to understand that the solution lies in separation, but instead of vying for genuine and proper negotiations we once again find ourselves in a line of false pretenses," said Matan Vilnai, a lawmaker from the Labor Party.
The road map calls for an end to violence and aims to build a Palestinian state by 2005. But talks have sputtered because of violence, political turmoil and intransigence on both sides.