US, UN, EU, deplore Givat Ze'ev project

Rice: Plan doesn't help progress of talks; Ban: Settlement expansion contrary to int'l law.

givat zeev 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy )
givat zeev 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy )
The UN, the EU and the US on Monday deplored Israel's plans to build some 400 new homes in the Givat Ze'ev settlement. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern over the previous day's decision to approve the plan for a new haredi neighborhood in the settlement located just north of Jerusalem. "The secretary-general expresses his concern over the government of Israel's approval of a resumption of construction of 750 housing units in the West Bank settlement of Givat Ze'ev," Ban said in a statement issued by his spokesperson. "Any settlement expansion is contrary to Israel's obligations under the Road Map and to international law," continued the statement. "The secretary-general calls on the government of Israel to halt settlement expansion and reiterates that the fulfillment of Road Map obligations by both parties is an important measure underpinning the political process between them." For the initial stage of the project known as Agan Ha'ayalot, contractors were given permission to begin work on 330 units and to complete 200 units on which work had already begun before the project was frozen in 2000, according to the Construction and Housing Ministry. But the intent, the ministry's spokesman said was to allow for the completion of all 750 units. The Bush administration said the plan does not help the progress of US-backed peace talks. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters US policy on expansion of settlements in disputed areas is well-known, and it is important to keep the atmosphere positive. She made the comments after a meeting at the State Department with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Earlier, Rice's spokesman had called Sunday's announcement unhelpful. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack noted that Rice had spoken to Israel's defense minister twice in two days. Meanwhile, Javier Solana, the EU's foreign and security affairs chief, said the bloc remained committed to supporting the peace process despite recent violence casting a shadow over the peace effort launched at the Annapolis summit. "The position of the European Union is to continue to do the utmost to move the peace process forward," Solana said after discussing the Middle East with the EU foreign ministers. But he said "we deplore" Israel's announcement of the construction of new homes in east Jerusalem. "That may put in jeopardy the peace process." Solana said the settlements question "is part of the first phase of the roadmap (to peace). We do not like to see the extension of the settlements." Separately Monday, European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering called for an immediate halt to violence, saying, "I condemn the violence by Hamas and other Palestinian extremists, and I call on government of Israel to listen to those voices calling for peace rhetoric to be replaced by peace acts and peace deeds." Given the dire conditions in the Gaza and last week's attack on Jerusalem's Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner suggested the US, the EU, Russia and the UN meet soon to assess chances for peace between Israel and the Palestinians after the recent spike in violence. She gave no date for a meeting of the so-called "Quartet" of peacemakers, nor did the EU foreign ministers take up her proposal. The EU leaders open two days of talks in Brussels on Thursday and may visit that issue. Ferrero-Waldner said a Quartet meeting should assess "how the negotiations are going and what we can do to enhance conditions" for a peace agreement by year's end. Several EU foreign ministers dismissed any possibility of the EU agreeing to bring Hamas into the process. The Islamic militant group seized control of the Gaza Strip last year, leaving the Palestinians split between rival leaderships. "It is very important to stick to the position that we should work with all those who want peaceful processes and peaceful outcomes in the Middle East," said British Foreign Secretary David Miliband. "Only a political solution ... can bring security to Israelis and an end to the hardships faced by Palestinians." Also Monday, Jordan's King Abdullah II blasted Olmert's approval. Speaking to reporters in Amman after a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Abdullah called the construction project an "obstacle to peace." Construction and Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim rebuffed the criticism, saying that the approval for the project was issued eight years ago. Boim said the authorization was given in accordance with the tenders then issued, but that the project was frozen due to the outbreak of the second intifada in October 2000. He added that the approval was reissued the following appeals by construction companies to the court.