PA, U.S. officials discuss plan to expand Maaleh Adumim

Agencies

Haaretz

Adar 2 14, 5765

Senior Palestinian officials on Thursday asked visiting United States envoys to help block the expansion of Ma'aleh Adumim, warning that the planned construction would cut off East Jerusalem - the Palestinians' intended capital - from territory they seek for a future state.

The envoys, National Security Council official Elliott Abrams and David Welch, the assistant secretary of state for the Near East, asked Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Wednesday about the planned expansion of the settlement, located five kilometers east of Jerusalem.

Haaretz quoted security sources last Tuesday as saying that the statutory procedures relating to the plan to establish two new neighborhoods between Ma'aleh Adumim and Jerusalem will be completed within a few weeks.

In January, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz approved an initiative to establish two new neighborhoods, comprising some 3,500 housing units, between Ma'aleh Adumim and Jerusalem.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia told Abrams and Welch he expected Washington to take a clear position against Israeli settlement expansion plans.

"The United States knows the details, and the dangers of such plans for the road map and President Bush's vision of the peace process," Qureia's office quoted him as saying, referring to the internationally-backed road map peace plan that envisions the creation of a Palestinian state.

Qureia added that a Palestinian ministerial committee had been formed to ensure a smooth takeover when Israel pulls out the Gaza Strip this summer.

But he called the withdrawal itself a unilateral Israeli decision that did not require coordination with the Palestinians. It was not immediately clear if Qureia was ruling out such coordination, which Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has said he favors.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the envoys expressed U.S. opposition to the plan to build the housing units, "but we told him that is not enough," calling for U.S. pressure on Israel to halt all construction in settlements and the Israeli separation barrier along and in the West Bank.

U.S. State Department officials have said the two envoys were seeking clarifications from Israel on the expansion plans - language that implies criticism.

Last year, however, during talks with U.S. President George W. Bush, Sharon won support for keeping some large West Bank settlement blocs in an eventual peace deal.

Meanwhile, a senior United Nations official warned the Security Council on Thursday that the expansion of settlements could undermine "a viable future for Palestinians."

The road map "states clearly that Israel should dismantle outposts and freeze settlement activity," said Kieran Prendergast, the UN undersecretary-general for political affairs.

Labor MK Yuli Tamir said she first began hearing of the revival of the plan a few weeks ago.

"There is a feeling in the government that while the world is focused on Gaza, it is possible to build in the West Bank," she said.