State Department Expresses Disappointment That Israel Has Legalized 3 West Bank Settlements

The State Department today expressed “deep disappointment” over an announcement in Jerusalem that Israel has legalized three settlements in the West Bank. According to Department spokesman Hodding Carter, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Alfred Atherton telephoned Israeli Ambassador Simcha Dinitz this morning to convey the Department’s “disappointment.”

” We have consistently made clear, including in our recent talks here in Washington, our view that the establishment of settlements in the occupied territories is not only contrary to the Fourth Geneva Convention, but also constitutes an obstacle to the peace-making process,” Carter told reporters.

According to Carter, the State Department “has been in touch with the Israeli government” which “has informed us it is taking action to give legal status to three existing settlements in the West Bank.” Carter identified the settlements as Maale Edumim, east of Jerusalem, Ofra, near Ramallah, and Eilon Moreh (Kadum), near Nablus.

“Our understanding is that the former Israeli government had refused to legalize at least one of the settlements,” the spokesman said. He confirmed that the question of Israeli settlement in the occupied territories was discussed during Premier Menachem Begin’s visit here last week, but was unable to say whether Begin had informed the President of his intention to legalize the settlements.

SETTLEMENT DECISION DEFENDED IN JERUSALEM

(In Jerusalem, Begin denied reports today in Israeli and American newspapers that he had promised President Carter not to establish any settlements on the West Bank or other occupied areas until after Oct. 10, the date Begin has suggested for reconvening the Geneva Conference. However, he did not specifically say that he would plan new settlements. Begin made his statements to reporters after he met with President Ephraim Katzir to apprise him of his trip to the United States.

(At the same time government officials in Jerusalem defended the ” Ministerial Settlement’s Committee” decision to formally legalize the three West Bank settlement as “not a new departure.” The officials, conscious of the immediate negative reactions the decision was likely to provoke, sought to stress that all three sites were already extant settlements–which had won at least the tacit consent of the previous government–and whose positions were now being merely “regularized.”)

UNLIKELY TO ENDANGER HOPE FOR PEACE

Although Hodding Carter would not go as far as to say that the effect of the legalization would be to “endanger the hope for peace,” he voiced the hope that “prior to the new round of discussions in the Middle East there will be no steps to make the search for peace more difficult.” He said the U.S. was disappointed by the Israeli action “because it runs contrary to our long-standing belief on what should be done in the occupied territories.”

The Department spokesman said his statement was “officially relayed” to the Israeli government and had been approved by Secretary of State Cyrus Vance.

In another development, Hodding Carter would not comment on reports that the U.S. and the Soviet Union were seeking agreement on the possibility of stationing United Nations forces along the Israeli-Lebanese border. Vance, who will be leaving this weekend for a trip to the Middle East, is scheduled to meet with Dinitz this afternoon as part of what was called a routine meeting before his departure. It was probable that the issue of the settlements would come up, State Department officials said. Yesterday, Vance met with a delegation of Arab ambassadors to brief them on the President’s talks with Begin and Vance’s plans for his trip.

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