PM must OK new W. Bank construction

Move aims to prevent US criticism during Bush visit; Ma'aleh Adumim, Har Homa building to continue.

maaleh adumim 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
maaleh adumim 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Israel has relayed to the US details of a new directive that requires all future construction in the West Bank to receive the approval of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, The Jerusalem Post has learned. The move is reportedly designed to prevent possible criticism over Israeli settlement activity during next week's visit to the region by US President George W. Bush. Recent tenders for the construction of 307 new homes in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa and some 200 new units in Ma'aleh Adumim have prompted severe international criticism of Israel and soured the atmosphere at the first two sessions of final status talks with the Palestinians which followed last month's Annapolis peace conference. Officials told the Post that Israel is fully committed to its road map obligations restricting West Bank construction and that the new directive was an attempt to ensure that government officials were in a position to implement these commitments, and not be taken by surprise in the event that tenders are issued for building projects that may have been in the pipeline for months, if not years. However, officials said, the fact that Olmert must now give the green light to any new construction does not change Israel's building policy, and construction at Har Homa and Ma'aleh Adumim will proceed as planned. Israeli negotiators have explained to their Palestinian interlocutors that the government's commitment to limiting settlement construction comprises four elements: no new settlements; no outward expansion of existing settlements; no expropriation of private Palestinian land and no financial incentives for Israelis to live beyond the Green Line. Officials interpret these four points as meaning that Israel is refraining from creating facts on the ground during the negotiation process, thus preventing "surprises" that could have an adverse effect on the negotiations. Officials also expressed hope that the new policy will help improve the atmosphere at this week's round of final status talks, when negotiating teams led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei meet again.