TEL AVIV,(Reuters) – Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Thursday rejected suggestions from aides that Israel could quit more of the occupied West Bank and unilaterally set a border with the Palestinians after its Gaza pullout.
Sharon told a Tel Aviv business conference the only plan on the table was the U.S.-backed "road map" which is meant to lead to a negotiated Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel.
"We don”t have a better plan than this for Israel”s future and I repeat and stress this due to the rumours," Sharon said. "There is only one plan and it is the road map."
The withdrawal of Israeli troops and 9,000 settlers from occupied Gaza and a corner of the West Bank, completed this month, was billed by Sharon as a disengagement from conflict with the Palestinians.
Key Sharon advisers had suggested at conferences this week that one day Israel could carry out further withdrawals from the West Bank and unilaterally set a border with the Palestinians if negotiations looked set to fail.
"Only unilateral steps can work now," said Eival Giladi, widely seen as architect of the Gaza withdrawal plan and the barrier that Israel is building in the West Bank for what it calls security reasons and Palestinians say is a land grab.
Another adviser, Eyal Arad, had said that Israel would set its borders independently, leading to media speculation that Sharon himself was using advisers to float trial balloons, as he did ahead of the Gaza plan.
Palestinians welcomed the Gaza withdrawal, but feared it was a ruse by Israel to keep expanding major West Bank settlements, enclose them within the barrier and effectively set that as a permanent border.
Washington hopes the Gaza pullout will spur renewed talks on the road map.
But neither side has met its commitments to the plan, under which Palestinians were meant to start disarming militant groups and Israel was to freeze settlement growth.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas shies from disarming powerful militant factions, saying that could lead to civil war.
Sharon has vowed to keep expanding the biggest Jewish enclaves in the West Bank, which is home to some 245,000 settlers, and says that Israel will keep them forever. The World Court brands settlements illegal. Israel disputes this.
Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip, together home to 3.8 million Palestinians, in the 1967 Middle East war.