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US Says New Israeli Settlement Would Violate 'Road Map'

The United States said Wednesday Israel's plan to build a new settlement in the West Bank would violate Israeli obligations under the international Middle East peace road map. The State Department said U.S. diplomats are seeking an explanation from Israel. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

In unusually blunt comments, the United States said Israel's plan to build its first new West Bank settlement in a decade would violate the 2003 road map to Middle East peace, and it is reminding the Israeli government that making peace with the Palestinians requires good faith on both sides.

The comments from the State Department followed an announcement Tuesday that a former Israeli army camp in the northern Jordan Valley region of the West Bank will become a settlement housing some Israelis forced to leave Gaza when Israel dismantled its settlements there in 2005.

In a talk with reporters, acting State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said the United States, through diplomatic channels, is asking Israel for a clarification of its plans regarding the Maskiot settlement.

"The establishment of a new settlement or the expansion of an existing settlement would violate Israel's obligations under the road map," said Gallegos. "We are seeking an explanation from the Israeli government regarding this development. The U.S. calls on Israel to meet its road map obligations and avoid taking steps that could be viewed as pre-determining the outcome of final-status negotiations."

Spokesman Gallegos said the road map states that progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts will require, and depend on, good faith efforts by both parties.

He said the United States will continue to work with Israel and the Palestinians toward the realization of a two-state settlement of the regional conflict.

The international Middle East "Quartet" - the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations - issued the road map in April, 2003.

The first phase of the multi-year peace plan calls for a freeze on Israeli settlement building and a Palestinian push to dismantle terrorist groups.

The European Union reacted strongly to the Israeli announcement, expressing deep concern and saying such unilateral actions are illegal under international law.

Also condemned by the Palestinians, the settlement move followed some conciliatory steps including a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Jerusalem last Saturday.

The Bush administration has recently been pressed by Arab governments and the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group to renew Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking efforts. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she plans to visit the region early in the new year to explore chances for progress.