Secretary of State Colin Powell says the Bush administration is disappointed with Israel's record in dismantling settlement outposts in the West Bank as called for in the international Middle East peace "road map." Mr. Powell held talks Tuesday with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who said Israel will comply "in the near future."
Israel committed itself under the "road map" issued more than a year ago to tear down all unauthorized settler outposts erected after March of 2001, when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon came to power.
But while some of the outposts have been dismantled, Israeli opposition lawmakers say others remain and are being supplemented with structures and paved roads and are taking on the appearance of permanent settlements.
In a talk with reporters after meeting Mr. Shalom, Secretary Powell said the issue is a matter of concern for the Bush administration.
"With respect to the outposts, and other activity related to settlements and access, the minister and I had an open and candid discussion about it," he said. "I explained to the minister that we have some disappointment in the rate at which outposts have been removed and the minister gave me assurances that they are hard at work on that, and we'll be exchanging more information on the subject."
For his part, Mr. Shalom said the Sharon government is committed to removing the unauthorized outposts, even though he said the Palestinians have done nothing to implement their "road map" commitments.
He said "tens" of such outposts have been dismantled already and that the United States has been given a list of the 28 remaining, which he said will be dealt with "in the near future."
The left-leaning Israeli watchdog group, Peace Now, said this week there were 53 remaining outposts.
In his comments here, Mr. Shalom also defended Israel's controversial security barrier in the West Bank and expressed hope the United States and other sympathetic countries can head off an expected advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice next week that the barrier contravenes international law.
The Israeli official said the barrier has caused a "huge decline" in the number of terrorist attacks in Israeli cities while allowing Israel to eliminate many security checkpoints in the West Bank.
"We lost 1000 casualties in the last three-and-a-half years and since we have built this fence, it gives us the opportunity to cancel 80 roadblocks within the territories, which gives more freedom to the Palestinians while they don't have free access to the Israeli state in order to carry out attacks against us," he said. "It gives us the possibility to cancel more roadblocks in the future."
Mr. Shalom said Israel was not anxious to see Palestinians, as he put it, "have a big party" to celebrate the anticipated ruling from the international court in the Hague.
Israel's own Supreme Court late last month ordered the Sharon government to re-route a segment of the barrier near Jerusalem on grounds that its current path violated the human rights of local Palestinians.
The Bush administration, for its part, says the barrier is problematic to the extent that it intrudes into Palestinian areas and pre-judges the borders of an envisaged Palestinian state.