TEL AVIV (Feb. 26)
The Bush administration shelved a secret U.S. study on the legality of Jewish settlements in the West Bank two weeks after it was launched, the Jerusalem Post claimed in a report published Monday.
Post correspondent David Makovsky said the study was ordered two weeks ago by either National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft or White House Chief of Staff John Sununu.
It was killed by Secretary of State James Baker, Makovsky reported. He attributed his information to “U.S. sources.”
According to one version, Baker acted to avoid greater friction with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, at a time the United States is pressing Israel for significant concessions to start an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.
Another reason suggested for the cancellation was that Baker was unsure of the results of the study, said to have been ordered to produce the basis for a tougher U.S. stand against Israel’s settlement policies.
While President Bush, unlike former President Jimmy Carter, has never termed the settlements illegal, he has consistently called them “unhelpful to the peace process.”
The study also would have involved Jordan’s annexation of the West Bank in 1950, never recognized by the United States.
The study was to have been conducted by Charles Rostow, legal adviser to the National Security Council, in cooperation with the State Department’s legal counselor, Abraham Sofaer, the Post report said.
SHAMIR URGED TO MAKE STATEMENT
In Washington, an official in the State Department’s Bureau of Near East and South Asian Affairs was unaware of the study in question, but said that any policy paper on the legality of the settlements “could not serve the peace process” at this time.
The Israeli-administered territories have re-emerged as an international issue of late because of fears in the Arab world that Israel plans to settle Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union there to displace the Palestinian population.
Israeli sources quoted by the Jerusalem Post say President Bush did not accept at face value Shamir’s assurance in a telephone conversation last week that Israel has no policy of directing immigrants to West Bank settlements.
The president is reported to have asked, “But are you giving them advantageous incentives?”
Shamir responded that incentives for living in the West Bank are the same as for development towns in Israel proper.
American Jewish leaders, meanwhile, are said to be quietly urging Shamir to declare publicly that Israel is not offering Soviet immigrants incentives to settle in the West Bank.
Officials of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which is holding its annual seminar in Jerusalem this week, reportedly told Shamir that such a declaration would help case U.S. concern and also would encourage the Soviet Union to re-examine its opposition to direct flights from Moscow to Tel Aviv.
(JTA correspondent Howard Rosenberg in Washington contributed to this report.)