For decades Ariel Sharon has insisted that the occupation of large parts of the West Bank and Gaza is essential for Israel's security. Now, he's formally agreed to the road map - a peace plan that would establish a Palestinian state in that territory. Is this a real change in position or is it a tactical manoeuvre? This report from Barbara Plett.
Ariel Sharon presented his acceptance of the road map in terms of pragmatic self-interest rather than as a step towards peace. He told his cabinet that approving the US-backed plan would safeguard Israel's strategic relationship with Washington and it would help the country's struggling economy because, he said, diplomatic progress would lead to economic benefits. This largely negative endorsement faced strong opposition from the far right. But Mr Sharon is really swimming with the tide as polls show that a solid Israeli majority supports the road map.
There is debate in Israel though about what the old warrior is really up to. Some analysts believe his new moves are only tactical, concealing old policies of expanding Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. Others believe he does want to achieve a settlement of the conflict in this his final term as prime minister. Ariel Sharon's view of the road map is ambiguous enough to allow for both readings.