TEL AVIV, Israel – Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) pledged Tuesday to continue with steps toward peace with the Palestinians, but only if they do their part first, while ruling out new initiatives.
Greeting party leaders on the occasion of the Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement, Sharon said he would follow the internationally backed "road map" plan that calls for a Palestinian state.
Sharon ruled out new peace plans. "We have nothing new to invent," he said. "We have a plan the Cabinet accepted, the road map, that can be implemented if the Palestinians do their part. I definitely plan to continue this." Israel insists the Palestinians must dismantle violent groups before Israel takes any steps.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat (search) told Channel 10 TV in an interview just before Sharon's address that the Palestinians are committed to the road map plan and expect Israel to carry out its obligations. These include a halt to construction in West Bank settlements and removal of dozens of unauthorized outposts there.
The Likud Party gathering outside Tel Aviv was Sharon's first since a blistering internal battle for leadership that followed Israel's pullout from Gaza (search) and part of the West Bank, a move unpopular with much of the hard-line Likud leadership.
Sharon appealed for party unity in the year before elections are to be held and said he would not tolerate party rebellions in the future.
"We will have to get used to the fact that the Likud faction will support the decisions of the government," he said. "We cannot continue with the present situation."
If his party does not rally around him, Sharon could be forced to call an early election.
Sharon basked in praise following the pullout, noting his uncharacteristically warm welcome at the United Nations last month.
Also, he said, "there is certainly a process of strengthening relations with moderate Muslim nations." Arab states in the Gulf region are cautiously upgrading relations, and Israeli and Pakistani foreign ministers had their first public meeting last month.
Also Tuesday, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz instructed military attorneys to appeal last week's Israeli Supreme Court ruling banning the military's practice of using Palestinian civilians as "human shields" in arrest raids, defense officials said on condition of anonymity, as they were not authorized to make a public statement.
The practice involves troops ordering Palestinians to go ahead of them to the house of a suspect about to be arrested and call on him to surrender. The judges ruled it violates international law.