Tel Aviv was stung on 30 October by critical comments from its most senior military official. Speaking to the local press, army chief Moshe Yaalon described the stranglehold on West Bank towns as counterproductive, embittering the local population and increasing resentment of Israel. Regarded by Tel Aviv as a betrayal, the admission carries weight because of Yaalon’s reputation as a hardliner.

The centrist Shinui party, Likud’s coalition partner, sensed a window of opportunity and tabled a new peace plan. The centrepiece of the proposal was Israeli evacuation of the Gaza settlement of Netzarim, where three Israeli soldiers were killed in late October. Shinui also calls for Israeli adherence to the terms of the dormant roadmap for peace, including the evacuation of settlement outposts in the West Bank. Sharon said he would give the plan a hearing.

The premier is under fire from the right for his proposal to release several hundred Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners in return for the bodies of three Israeli soldiers and of businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum, captured by Hezbollah in 2000. Berlin has been mediating the agreement between Israel and Hezbollah. Detractors criticise the numbers imbalance and the lack of information on the fate of Israeli airman Ron Arad, taken prisoner in 1986. Sharon is to seek cabinet approval on 9 November.

Sharon is not only under fire on international issues. The Israeli economy is in prolonged recession and strikes have broken out over austerity measures proposed by Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Sharon’s personal financial affairs are also under investigation.

The prime minister reacted angrily on 3 November to a poll of EU citizens showing that Israel was viewed as more of a threat to world peace than such states as Iran and North Korea. Choosing to go on the international offensive, Tel Aviv the following day introduced a resolution at the UN General Assembly, calling on the gathering to condemn Palestinian suicide bombings of Israeli children. The resolution is Israel’s first for more than two decades. The General Assembly has passed numerous resolutions condemning Israeli action against Palestinians and Tel Aviv has in the past dismissed the body as irrelevant and biased.

At the UN Security Council, Sharon is trying to persuade Moscow to drop a resolution calling on the UN formally to adopt the peace roadmap. Israel wants to keep the process under Washington’s aegis.