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Israeli PM Prepares to Address Issue of Illegal Jewish Settlements - 2003-06-02

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is preparing to address the issue of illegal Jewish settlements at the upcoming Mideast summit with American President George W. Bush.

Mr. Sharon told his Cabinet Sunday that the final statement at the three-way summit in Jordan is likely to include a reference to Jewish outposts in the West Bank.

On Wednesday, Mr. Sharon will meet at the Red Sea resort of Aqaba with President Bush and the Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas.

The meeting is aimed at promoting the U.S. backed "road map to peace," which calls for the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by 2005.

The plan says one of the issues that must be resolved is the existence of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Palestinians regard both territories as the building blocks of a future independent state and are calling for all Jewish settlements to be dismantled.

Ahead of the summit, Mr. Sharon told his Cabinet that some illegally built Jewish settlements in the West Bank might have to be evacuated.

The draft of Mr. Sharon's speech for the meeting, being worked out in consultation with U.S. officials, says that the Jewish people have an historic right to settle anywhere in the area but as a law-abiding nation Israel will remove any illegal outposts in the territories. However, there would be no reference to settlements established before March, 2001, when Mr. Sharon first took office.

Israel Radio, quoting diplomatic sources, reported that Mr. Sharon will also declare Israel supports Mr. Bush's vision for peace in the Middle East and Israel does not want to rule over millions of Palestinians.

At the same time, U.S. envoys have reportedly failed to secure a promise from the Palestinian leadership that Mr. Abbas would recognize Israel's right to exist as a "Jewish state".

The Palestinian leadership is understood to fear this could effectively result in millions of Palestinian refugees foregoing their claims to return to areas that are now part of Israel.