JERUSALEM (May. 18)
Palestinian officials have warned of an outbreak of violence if Israeli security forces proceed with plans to demolish structures built by Palestinians in the West Bank.
Israel Radio reported Sunday that Israeli security forces and police, under orders from the government, were preparing to demolish some 500 buildings in West Bank areas under sole Israeli control. Israel maintains that the buildings were erected illegally.
In an interview with Israel Radio’s Arabic service, Yasser Abbed Rabbo, the Palestinian Authority official in charge of information, likened the policy to “systematic ethnic cleansing” which could bring about “certain confrontation in the region.”
Palestinian officials pointed to the planned demolitions as another Israeli action aimed at extinguishing any chance for overcoming the two-month impasse in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross left the region last Friday after a two-week shuttle mission failed to get the two sides to soften their stances and return to the negotiating table.
Prior to his departure, Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat turned down a meeting with Ross, a snub intended to highlight his dissatisfaction with the U.S. mediation effort.
The Palestinians believe the United States is biased in favor of Israel.
The European Union, which has launched its own effort at restarting the negotiations, is viewed by Israel as having a pro-Palestinian bent.
Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and security cooperation broke off in March after Israel began building a new Jewish neighborhood at Har Homa in southeastern Jerusalem, and a Palestinian suicide bomber launched an attack on a Tel Aviv cafe.
Israel has demanded the resumption of intelligence sharing as a condition for renewing the talks.
The Palestinians want Israel to cease all construction in the territories and Jerusalem before they return to the bargaining table.
The Israel Radio report said that the security forces were also planning to demolish illegal structures put up in the Jewish settlement of Yitzhar, located near the West Bank town of Nablus.
The structures were built after Israeli police demolished earlier this month three other illegal buildings at Yitzhar.
Knesset member Hanan Porat, of the National Religious Party, appealed to the government not to order the demolitions, and instead to try to work out the dispute with the settlers.
Porat said Sunday that officials in the defense establishment had denied that there were immediate plans to destroy the illegal settlement structures.
He added that whoever leaked the information to Israel Radio had been trying to create friction between settlers and the government.