Under pressure to end three years of fighting, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Thursday that Israel could not hold on to all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but he also warned Palestinians that unless they moderated their demands, he might keep some of the land they are seeking for a state.
"You do not have unlimited time," he said at a news conference, addressing the Palestinians. "There is a limit to our patience."
Sharon's talk about possible concessions was aimed at an increasingly impatient gallery of critics, ranging from U.S. officials to bickering government coalition partners to ordinary Israelis despondent over the decline of their living standards.
The Palestinians responded with a sharp rebuke.
"This is an unprecedented, arrogant statement. It is rude, and it lacks any vision," said Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath. "He should declare that he is committed to the 'road map' and implement all the Israeli commitments that are in this map."
Sharon said he remained committed to the U.S.-backed plan, which both sides accepted in principle in June, although Israel attached more than a dozen reservations. The plan calls for a Palestinian state by 2005.
But Sharon made it clear he would not fully abide by one requirement: that Israel dismantle the scores of West Bank settlement outposts, many of them no more than a few trailer homes, established in recent years. He said that some outposts have "supreme security value" and that "what is necessary will remain" -- a statement Palestinians decried as a blatant violation of the plan.
The Palestinians, meanwhile, have evaded the requirement that they dismantle militant groups that have killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings and shootings in the three years of the current conflict.