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U.S. Criticizes Reported Plan to Expand Israeli Settlements

January 12, 1998
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Israel has drawn international criticism for its reported plans to build 30,000 apartments in the West Bank during the next 20 years.

The settlement expansion plans, which were reported to be in various stages of approval by the Israeli government, appeared last Friday in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz as U.S. Special Middle East Coordinator Dennis Ross was wrapping up a four-day shuttle to the region.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied the report during a Cabinet meeting Sunday, but was criticized by hawkish Infrastructure Minister Ariel Sharon, who said the premier should not feel he has to issue such a denial.

Commenting on the Ha’aretz report, Ross said any actions to expand settlements would not help the peace process.

Britain, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, said it was “disturbed” by the reported expansion plans.

Israeli officials said the expansion was meant to accommodate natural population growth in the coming years.

The Ha’aretz report appeared a day after the United States criticized Israel’s approval of plans to expand by several hundred homes the West Bank settlement of Efrat.

Such construction does not “create the environment required for successful negotiations,” James Rubin, State Department spokesman, said last week in Washington.

Meanwhile, Palestinian officials described Ross’ visit to the region as a failure.

A spokesman for Yasser Arafat said that the Palestinian Authority chairman considers his meeting with President Clinton next week a “last chance” to save the peace process.

Reflecting the increased tensions in the absence of any substantive progress during Ross’ visit, Palestinians clashed with Israeli troops Saturday in the West Bank town of Hebron.

Seven Arabs and one Israeli border policeman were injured during the protest, sparked by Palestinian denunciations of Israeli settlement plans and the slow pace of the peace process.

During its meeting Sunday, the Israeli Cabinet discussed the extent of a further redeployment of Israeli troops from the West Bank.

Netanyahu said last week that he was considering only one further redeployment before moving directly to the final-status negotiations, but there were reports Sunday that he was backing away from that position.

Israel was to make three redeployments under the terms of the Oslo accords, and Washington is said to be pressing Netanyahu to live up to that commitment.

Ha’aretz cited American officials as saying Clinton is expected to be publicly critical of Netanyahu if the prime minister brings with him a proposal for a further redeployment that falls short of American expectations for at least a 10 percent transfer.

Netanyahu told coalition members last week that a decision on the scope of the redeployment would be made before his departure for Washington, where he is scheduled to meet with Clinton on Jan 20.

But he added that it would be implemented several months later, after the Palestinians had demonstrated that they were ready to fulfill their commitments under already signed accords.

The Cabinet focused much of its discussion Sunday on the Palestinian conditions which must be met before a redeployment is carried out.

Cabinet Secretary Danny Naveh presented four main areas, drawn up as a result of consultations with the defense establishment and the attorney general, in which the Palestinians must act:

canceling of those sections of the Palestinian national covenant that call for Israel’s destruction;

taking action against terrorism and preventing the outbreak of violence;

limiting the size of the Palestinian police force; and

restricting the activities of the Palestinian Authority to those areas under its control.

Justice Minister Tzachi Hanegbi proposed that the extradition to Israel of suspected Palestinian terrorists be added to the list.

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