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Arab fury as US backs Israeli policy

August 23, 2004 From Ian MacKinnon in Jerusalem

PALESTINIANS and leaders across the Arab world reacted with fury yesterday to an apparent shift in United States policy that would allow Israel to expand settlements on occupied West Bank territory.
The Palestinians said that the change was tantamount to ripping up the US-backed “road map” peace plan, under which Israel has agreed to freeze all settlement construction, including natural growth of existing communities.
Signals coming from Washington suggested that President Bush would support new settlement construction as long as it does not expand beyond existing boundaries.
Officials in Washington said that the Bush Administration’s stance remained unchanged, but all the signs ponted to a covert policy shift aimed at throwing a lifeline to Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, whose position is in jeopardy after his plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.
The policy rethink was disclosed in The New York Times and yesterday Yedioth Aronoth, an Israeli Hebrew daily newspaper, said that the unacknowledged agreement between the administrations in Washington and Tel Aviv had been in place for three years.
Last week Mr Sharon approved the building of 1,001 new homes in four West Bank settlements just before a raucous Likud party conference in which opponents of his Gaza pull-out voted down moves to expand his rickety coalition. American officials gave a muted response to the breach of the moribund road map and said that a high-level team was due in Israel next month to discuss the issue.
In the wake of the reports indicating the policy shift, one US official was quoted as saying: “There is some flexibility.”
Palestinians fear the uprooting of the 8,000 Gaza settlers is merely a ruse to enable Israel to consolidate its hold on large West Bank settlements, where 230,000 Jews live. They believe that it makes the elusive goal of a two-state solution all the more unattainable.
“That is destroying the road map,” Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, said. “That is what destroys the peace process and the two-state solution,” he said.
Judges at an Israeli military court dismissed a plea by the soldier who shot dead Tom Hurndall, a British peace activist, for his videotaped confession to investigators to be ruled inadmissable.

Source…http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,251-1228946,00.html
 
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