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U.S. Sidesteps Settlement Issue on Whether They’re Legal or Not

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The Bush administration continues to refuse to say publicly whether the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are a violation of international law, although it has repeatedly urged Israel not to create any new ones.

“This administration has not gotten into the debate on legal verses illegal,” State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said Friday.

But, she added, the administration has made clear, both publicly and privately, that Israel’s establishment of new settlements “is not constructive to advancing peace.”

President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker both repeated this view to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir in their meetings with him Wednesday, Tutwiler said.

While Tutwiler refused to give any details of what was said, the discussion reportedly covered both the general settlement issue and Israel’s announcement this week of a new settlement near Dugit in the Gaza Strip.

Tutwiler contrasted the Bush administration position with the two previous administrations.

The Carter administration called the settlements illegal under international law. The Reagan administration reversed that position and said they were not illegal,but were not constructive in the peace process.

The Bush administration has “just chosen not to” publicly state its view on the legality question, Tutwiler said.

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