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Serious Differences Remain Between US, Israel over Settlements

Houses are seen in Maleeh Adumim, the largest Jewish settlement in West Bank (File photo - Aug. 2, 2004)
A senior Israeli official says there are serious differences between Israel and the United States over the expansion of Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas.

Israeli Justice Minister Tsipi Livni said in an interview on Israel Radio that there is, what she termed, a debate over whether Israel can expand the boundaries of the existing settlements.

Ms. Livni said let there be no misunderstanding, there apparently will be disputes with the Americans over this.

The differences between the two governments are substantial. Last month Israeli officials confirmed they have plans to build 3,600 new homes in the sprawling West Bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim, next to Jerusalem.

On Tuesday, President Bush said the internationally-backed "road map" peace plan prohibits further expansion of Jewish settlements and called for a freeze on construction.

Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat welcomed Mr. Bush's statement, urging the American leader to exert every possible effort to stop settlement activities and to maintain his vision of a two state solution.

Last month, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said the Israeli expansion plans in Maaleh Adumim were at odds with American policy.

Maaleh Adumim's physical location raises a significant issue. Should the new construction spread to the west it could link the settlement up with Jerusalem and separate the Arab neighborhoods there from the rest of the West Bank, making it untenable to make east Jerusalem the capital of a Palestinian state as the Palestinians hope.

Despite the differences between the U.S. and Israeli positions on the settlement issue, Tzipi Livni said she does not expect there to be any particular problems when Mr. Bush and President Sharon meet next week in Texas.