Date: Mon, 22 Jun 98 19:27:46 CDT
From: MichaelP <email@example.com>
Subject: Fury greets new Israeli expansion
The Middle East peace process lurched closer to collapse yesterday when the Israeli government defied Washington and angered Palestinians by backing a plan to extend Jerusalem's borders into the occupied West Bank.
Ignoring American protests, Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, won cabinet approval for the scheme, which Palestinian leaders said amounted to a de facto annexation of territories that were supposed to be subject to final status negotiations between the two sides.
The creation of a 'greater Jerusalem' will include the extension of its boundaries westwards to incorporate Israeli commuter towns, with the objective of guaranteeing the city's Jewish majority and expanding its tax base.
But the more controversial element is the proposal to create an 'umbrella municipality' over parts of the West Bank beyond the 1967 Green Line to the south, east and north of Jerusalem. Eight Jewish settlements will fall under the city's municipal authority.
Ahmed Tibi, economic adviser to Yasser Arafat, described the Israeli
government's decision as
a new attempt to destroy the peace
It's a total violation of the Oslo agreement, there
is an intention to annex Palestinian-occupied land, Mr Tibi told
Palestinians are being expelled from Jerusalem
systematically by cancellation of their identity cards, confiscation
of their lands and demolition of their houses.
Mr Tibi said Mr Netanyahu was deliberately sending a clear message to
annexation of land in Jerusalem, and No to the
American initiative. It's a real spit in the face of the American
The Palestinians have been urging Washington for months to take a tougher line with Mr Netanyahu, but despite her patience being stretched to the limit, the United States secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, has persevered in assembling a package deal which would see Israel withdraw from another 13 per cent of the West Bank in return for security guarantees and the start of final status negotiations.
Yesterday, after a week of intensive lobbying against the Israeli move, Mrs Albright said in a television interview that she had told Mr Netanyahu in a telephone conversation that
in this very delicate environment, unilateral actions are not the
kind that are helpful.
Earlier, a state department spokesman went further, calling the
However, Mrs Albright hinted that until yesterday's setback,
substantive progress on Middle East issues had been greater than
recent strained relations between Washington and the Israeli
government had suggested. She praised
intensive and constructive
dialogue on the peace process, including on the status of
In a press conference aiming to turn back the tide of criticism, Mr
Netanyahu said there had been a deliberate campaign to distort the
Israeli decision. The cabinet move was
entirely municipal, entirely
administrative, with no political implications whatsoever. The
prime minister said he had sent clarifications to Israeli embassies,
especially in the European Community.
This is an instance where you have this conditioned reflex to
accuse Israel in an area where it is not culpable, he
When you have such an artificial storm blown up in minutes
. . . I think it is destructive of the peace process that anyone
should allow themselves to be taken in, frankly, by this kind of
But the EU voiced its concern, saying the plan would
peace process at a very sensitive time. In a statement issued by
the British presidency, the EU said the plan would
demographic balance in the Jerusalem area. The European Union has
repeatedly called for a halt to unilateral activity in Jerusalem.
Mr Netanyahu replied that the Palestinians were the ones violating the peace accords, by trying to establish authority in Jerusalem.
The plan does not annex the West Bank settlements in question, which surround
Jerusalem to the north, east and south. They will continue to pay local property taxes and vote in their own jurisdictions, said Mr Netanyahu's adviser, David Bar-Illan.
But it sets up an 'umbrella authority', putting the settlements under Jerusalem's municipal authority for certain services, notably building and planning. Settlements normally have to get building approval from the defence ministry.
It is the first time that regional powers concerning a region of
the West Bank will be vested in a civilian Israeli organ, Danny
Seidemann, an Israeli lawyer and peace activist, said.
The US has called for a
time-out on any expansion of Jewish
settlements, in an effort to help restart the stalled peace talks. The
Palestinians hope to establish an independent state in the West Bank
and Gaza Strip, which Israel occupied in 1967, with east Jerusalem as
They are dictating the outcome of the permanent status talks,
said Ahmed Qureia, speaker of the Palestinian Council.
This is the
most dangerous step taken by the Israeli government. They are firing
the bullet that will put the peace process out of its misery.
The larger blocks of settlements around Jerusalem are widely expected
to be annexed by Israel in any final peace settlement. But the
Israel-Palestinian interim accords call on the two sides to refrain
from unilateral measures that
change the status of the West Bank
and the Gaza Strip, pending the outcome of the permanent status
Those negotiations, which are supposed to be completed by next May, have not yet begun.
Hundreds of Israelis living in prosperous suburbs west of Jerusalem demonstrated against the plan yesterday, vowing to take it to the supreme court. Many moved out of Jerusalem to flee the steadily rising influence of the religious community, many members of which do not work or pay taxes.
We are not going to pay for the Haredi [ultra-Orthodox]
neighbourhoods in Jerusalem, said one angry resident of Mevasseret