Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Thursday presented his „test for exposing the true face of the Palestinian leadership” – an end to incitement against Israel and a change in the Palestinian Authority’s education system.

In contrast, he does not expect the new leadership to immediately dismantle terrorist organizations – something he has previously made an absolute condition for progress, he said at a meeting with Likud activists. Sharon’s remarks came on a day when U.S. President George Bush, attending the inauguration of former president Bill Clinton’s presidential library in Little Rock, Arkansas, told Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would top his new administration’s agenda. Earlier in the day, outgoing National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told Shalom that her first trip in her new job as secretary of state would be to the Middle East, as she sees a real chance for progress. „I don’t intend to waste time and my plan is to find any way, when the new Palestinian leadership is ready to open talks, to begin to advance our relations with the Palestinians,” Sharon told the Likud activists.

However, he added, incitement and the school curriculum – two issues that he has often raised in the past must be dealt with even before the first stage of the road map peace plan, which requires the PA to fight terror and implement governmental reforms. „How will the Palestinian leadership be tested? We must not waive our demands on collecting weapons and dismantling terrorist organizations, but it’s clear that this is a more complicated process,” he said. „In contrast, there are two demands that are in the new leadership’s control, which they must implement immediately. The true face of the new leadership will be clarified and tested in light of its implementation, or lack thereof, of these two issues, which are easy to implement and can be dealt with immediately: ending the constant, poisonous incitement and propaganda on Palestinian television and media, and changing the direction of the Palestinian educational system ending the incitement against and demonization of Israel, Israelis and Jews.” The latter would involve replacing textbooks and forbidding classes, performances or summer camps that incite against Israel, he said. „The venomous propaganda is the root and basis of the expanding phenomenon of terror and suicide bombers,” he continued. „Palestinian education and propaganda are more dangerous to Israel than Palestinian weapons.” Sharon also lashed out at his critics from both left and right, as well as at gloomy defense establishment forecasts. „The pessimists seize every rumor, every word, every hint,” he said. „Everything is black, everything is grave, everyone is against us. Perhaps we should stop the disengagement plan, perhaps we’ll achieve a better solution through negotiations with the Palestinians? The left wants larger and more rapid concessions. The extreme right, with a deceptive wink, simply wants to halt the exit from Gaza.” „Rumor begets rumor,” he continued. „The Palestinians will concede; the Europeans are preparing sanctions; the Iranians, with the Syrians and Hezbollah, will bomb from the north; Hamas will control Gaza to the southwest. Submarines to the west, drones up above, tunnels underneath … I want to yell ‘Quiet!’ Calm down. Let everyone do his own job.” He added that to give up the disengagement, and therefore his agreement with Bush, would be „irresponsible.” Over the last few days, Washington has urged Israel to enable the PA elections scheduled for January 9 to take place without hindrance and to begin coordinating with the PA „at the field level” on security and economic issues. In particular, it wants greater coordination between Israel and the PA in advance of a PA donors’ conference in Oslo on December 8. Outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell will arrive in Israel on Sunday for meetings with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials. In addition, America has altered the agenda for next week’s Sharm al-Sheikh conference, which was originally supposed to be dedicated solely to Iraq. Now, it will also include a meeting of the „Quartet” (the U.S., European Union, United Nations and Russia) on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The foreign ministers of Russia, Egypt and Britain will also all visit Israel and the PA next week. BPI-info