Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) was booed by members of his hard-line Likud Party Monday as he insisted Israel would withdraw from some Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Sharon told a Likud convention that Israel would agree to formation of a Palestinian state in negotiations dictated by the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan — but that if negotiations did not bear fruit, he would go ahead with his unilateral plan to disengage from the Palestinians, including moving some settlements.
Speaking above boos and catcalls, Sharon scolded the party activists, saying that as prime minister, he had the responsibility to make decisions. "I will carry them out," he said, staring at his critics. "I will carry them out."
The Likud Party Central Committee, where many members oppose the removal of any of the 150 Jewish settlements, planned to debate a proposal Monday that would require Sharon to clear all major decisions with them beforehand, effectively tying his hands in dealing with the Palestinians.
Palestinians and the United States have criticized Sharon's unilateral plan, saying a resolution must be reached through negotiations. But Israeli hard-liners also oppose the plan because of its territorial concessions.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (search) said Monday he has ceased trying to schedule a summit with his Israeli counterpart aimed at restarting peace talks, amid continuing bloodshed in the 39-month-long conflict.
Top aides of Sharon and Qureia have met repeatedly in recent weeks to prepare for a summit of the two premiers intended to rejuvenate the stalled U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan, which envisions a Palestinian state by 2005. But Qureia said Monday that even those contacts have been stopped because of the violence.
In the past week Israeli soldiers have killed eight Palestinians, five in the West Bank city of Nablus and three of them teenagers. One victim died of wounds received during a funeral for three compatriots.
The latest death came Monday, when Israeli troops shot and killed a 17-year-old Palestinian violating curfew in Nablus. The family of Taj Saif, 17, said he was a junk collector shot while returning from a junk-collecting trip. Israeli military sources said troops shot a Palestinian who threw a fire bomb.
"I am sorry to say destruction continues, aggression continues, bombardment continues and I don't think that in this situation that any (summit) meeting will have significant results," Qureia told reporters.
"We are not looking for a meeting that is a photo opportunity. We are looking for a meeting that will open a political horizon for our people in order to achieve a just solution for our people's problems," he said.
Both the Israelis and the Palestinians have failed to fulfill basic road map requirements.
The Palestinians have not cracked down on militant groups but instead worked unsuccessfully to persuade them to voluntarily end attacks on Israel. Israel has not dismantled scores of West Bank settlement outposts, though the government in the past few days has signed orders to have six removed, and to freeze all construction in veteran Jewish settlements.
Following an appeal to Israel's Supreme Court, the government agreed Monday to give the settlers 15 days, instead of six, to appeal the evacuation order, the justice ministry said. Settlers now have eight days to appeal to the army and a further week to appeal to the courts.
On Sunday night, hundreds of Jewish settlers held a gala ceremony at one such outpost in West Tapuah in defiance of Sharon. Dancing, singing and carrying assault rifles, they marked the introduction of a new Torah scroll into their synagogue — a sign of permanence.
Security officials said the army has a plan to dismantle the six outposts, two of them populated.
"We don't want any confrontations. It's not good for the army, not for the settlers, not for anyone," the Israeli military chief, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, told Channel 10 TV. "But if we don't have any choice and we have to confront them, we will."
Sharon, a longtime champion of the settler movement, is under pressure from the United States to honor his pledges to take down illegal outposts.
The government recently paved a road leading up to the West Tapuah outpost, established by followers of the late U.S.-born Rabbi Meir Kahane (search), who pushed for the expulsion of Arabs from Israel and the West Bank. Kahane was assassinated in New York in 1990.
At nightfall Sunday, hundreds marched to the outpost, which consists of three buildings, carrying banners of the banned Kach (search) movement and signs reading "Kahane was right." Some set off fireworks.
At the ceremony, the militant "Kahane Lives" group, which is on the U.S. State Department terrorist list, dedicated a seminary at West Tapuah.
Justice Minister Yosef Lapid told Israel TV that the seminary was going to teach Kahane's "fascist principles" and said the government must shut it down. Kahane's political party and movement have been outlawed as racist by the Israeli government.
Small children waving flaming torches in the darkness shouted, "Expel the Arabs!"
The outposts — often no more than a trailer and an Israeli flag perched on a barren West Bank hilltop — have angered Palestinians, who see them as seeds of Jewish settlements on land they claim for a future state.