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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Sharon: 'Occupation is a Bad Thing'

Aired May 27, 2003 - 20:20   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Our LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES timeline starts during the overnight hours, when the quote you just saw from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was causing quite a ruckus. While most of us slept, the Israeli government was trying to decide why Mr. Sharon used the "O" word, occupation.
Here's Kelly Wallace.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Israelis are still trying to understand if Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's use of the term occupation in public for the first very time indicates a 180- degree change in his political outlook.

ARIEL SHARON, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): You cannot like the word, but what is happening is an occupation. To hold 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation, I believe, that's a terrible thing for Israel and for the Palestinians.

WALLACE: Those words coming from the former general nicknamed "The Bulldozer" for his support of Jewish settlement building in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, shocked his rightwing allies, especially Jewish settlers.

VISHAEL MEIDAD, SPOKESMAN, ISRAELI SETTLERS: I couldn't believe it. That's a term that is used by the enemies of the state of Israel to try to block it into a corner. We are not occupiers. This is our homeland.

WALLACE: Sensing a political storm, the Israeli prime minister and his aides rushed to clarify his remarks.

RA'ANAN GISSIN, SENIOR SHARON ADVISER: People mistakenly thought that he speaks about the occupation of the territory. What he meant by the word kibush is the control or management of the life of 3.5 million Palestinians.

WALLACE: Aides say Mr. Sharon was saying that the presence of Israeli troops in Palestinian towns eventually needs to end, but that he still considers the West Bank and Gaza disputed, not occupied, territories, to be settled in a final agreement with the Palestinians.

Some political analyst, though, say the Israeli prime minister, regarded as a master politician, knew exactly what he was saying. LESLIE SUSSER, POLITICAL ANALYST: I think basically -- he used the term, I think he want to shock his rightwing audience and show them she determined if all the other elements -- as I say, the Americans, the Palestinians, go ahead with the roadmap in a serious way.

WALLACE: Some believe this was about external politics, with Mr. Sharon trying to send the U.S. president a message that he is committed to the Mideast roadmap.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALLACE: At the same time, some Israelis and many Palestinians say they remain skeptical about exactly what the prime minister said and what his intentions might be.

The controversy coming at a significant time. Prime Minister Sharon is expected to meet sometime this week with the Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, and then the two men are expected to huddle with U.S. President Bush next week -- Anderson.

COOPER: Kelly Wallace in Jerusalem, thanks very much.

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