Dov Weisglass, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's bureau chief, told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Wednesday that relinquishing some occupied land while keeping the rest had effectively frozen international efforts to push through the road map peace plan.
"The significance of our disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process. It supplies the formaldehyde necessary so there is no political process with the Palestinians," he said.
"And all this with ... a presidential blessing," he added, referring to President Bush's approval in April of Sharon's plan to quit tiny Gaza in 2005 while retaining swathes of the West Bank.
Weisglass told the daily that officials in Tel Aviv had privately written off the internationally sponsored road map peace plan and rejected frequent appeals to conduct negotiations.
"Israel is offering 'independence' on a reservation stripped of water and arable soil, economically dependent on Israel and even lacking the right to
Palestinian Liberation Organisation adviser
"When you freeze the process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state ... effectively this whole package called a Palestinian state, with all it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda," Weisglass said.
"What I effectively agreed to with the Americans [in talks leading to Bush's endorsement of disengagement] was that part of the settlements would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns."
Following Weisglass' comments, Sharon reaffirmed his commitment to the peace road map.
Clearly seeking to control damage, the Israeli prime minister said on Wednesday the internationally backed peace initiative was "the only plan that can permit progress towards a durable political settlement" with the Palestinians.
Sharon is seeking to control the
damage from his aide's remarks
Afterwards, an Israeli foreign ministry spokeswoman told Aljazeera.net she was surprised by Weisglass' remarks, which she said contradicted the declared Israeli policy of embracing the peace process.
"I am not sure that what he said reflected government policy," Amira Oron said. "The declared stance of the state of Israel is to push the process forward and reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians involving the establishment of a Palestinian state."
On its part, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has reacted angrily to Weisglass' statements. PA Foreign Minister Abd Allah Abd Allah said, "His statements expose the obscenity and brazenness of Israel's lies about the peace process ... and the so-called disengagement plan."
Abd Allah criticised the international community for tolerating the enduring deception of the Sharon Government.
"Those who have been pressurising and bullying us to give Sharon a chance should now speak up and make a stand against this brazen deception and lies by Sharon and his cohorts," he said.
"They are convinced they control the US government and Congress. They feel that they can do anything to the Palestinians without having to worry about any meaningful international reactions"
Abd Allah Abd Allah,
Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister
Asked why Weisglass, the original engineer of the disengagement plan, chose to reveal Israel's real intentions at this time, Abd Allah said it "is the arrogance of power".
"They are convinced they control the US government and Congress. They feel that they can do anything to the Palestinians without having to worry about any meaningful international reactions," he said.
Weisglass' comments came as a top legal adviser to Palestinian President Yasir Arafat also rejected a separate Palestinian state.
"Israel is offering reservations on 'independence' on a reservation stripped of water and arable soil, economically dependent on Israel, and even lacking the right to self-defence," Michael Tarazi wrote in the New York Times on Monday.
The US sought and received assurances from Israel that Prime Minister Sharon remains committed to the so-called road map for peace after being taken aback by Weisglass' comments.
US diplomats in Israel had asked for clarification after seeing the published comments of Weisglass, the State Department said.
Many analysts have questioned
Sharon's Gaza pullout motives
"We certainly made it clear that (what Weisglass said) didn't coincide with what we thought the position of the government of Israel was," deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said.
"Our understanding is that Israel is committed to the road map and to the president's two-state vision," Ereli said. "Based on that statement and based on Israel's declared policy, we see no cause to doubt it."
US Secretary of State Colin Powell gave a similar assessment during a brief visit to the hurricane-devastated Caribbean island nation of Grenada on Wednesday, telling reporters that the US did not question Sharon's commitment to the road map and the two-state solution.
"There was never any doubt in our mind that that represents the prime minister's position and the position of the government of Israel," Powell said.
For their part, leftist politicians in Israel denounced Weisglass' statements, calling them "indicative of Sharon's insincerity and hypocrisy" as far as the peace process is concerned.
"This shows that Sharon is not a true partner in the peace process. It also shows that the Israeli peace camp must make utmost efforts to topple this government," said a statement by Yossi Beilin, chairman of the recently formed Yashad Party.
Another well-known dove, Uri Avneri of the Gush Shalom (Peace Bloc), said in an interview with Aljazeera.net that "Weisglass was telling the truth".
"I am not a bit surprised by what he said. I have been saying that all along, I knew from the very inception that Sharon is lying to the world, that his real goal was to kill the peace process and annex the West Bank," Avneri said.
Many Palestinians now feel two-
state solution is no longer viable
"You see a lot of people have been fooled by Sharon's lies. We see statesmen all over the world parrot Sharon's lies."
Avneri, who supports the land-for-peace formula and the two-states solution, said he was surprised by the "audacity of Weisglass and the fact that he chose to divulge the truth of the designs now".
"The entire so-called disengagement plan is a mere pretext for annexing the West Bank and killing the peace process," he said.
Avneri said Sharon knew very well the Bush administration will support anything and everything he does.
"Just look at the debates in Washington. Everybody is trying to appease and please Sharon," he said.