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Date: Mon, 22 Jun 98 19:27:46 CDT
From: MichaelP <papadop@peak.org>
Subject: Fury greets new Israeli expansion
Article: 37405
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.24944.19980623181823@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

Fury greets new Israeli expansion:
US joins Palestinian protest over Israeli 'annexation'

By David Sharrock and Martin Kettle, The Guardian (London),
Monday 22 June 1998

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 process. It's a total violation of the Oslo agreement, there is an intention to annex Palestinian-occupied land, Mr Tibi told Israeli radio. 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 Washington - annexation of land in Jerusalem, and No to the American initiative. It's a real spit in the face of the American administration.

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 expansion plan extremely provocative.

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 Jerusalem.

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 said. 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 nonsense.

But the EU voiced its concern, saying the plan would complicate the peace process at a very sensitive time. In a statement issued by the British presidency, the EU said the plan would alter the 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 its capital.

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 negotiations.

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 Zion.