U.S. now backs West Bank settlements

By Aaron Klein

The Bush administration has changed its stance on Israeli construction in the West Bank, and now supports development and expansion of existing settlements, according to a New York Times report that was later confirmed by several U.S. diplomatic sources.

The report comes a week after U.S. officials declined to comment on Israeli Prime Minister Sharon’s decision to approve 1,000 new homes in four of the largest West Bank settlements, and may in part be meant to boost Sharon’s domestic support after he lost a non-binding vote Wednesday over whether or not to negotiate coalition talks with the opposition Labor Party.

“It looks like the official policy is now catching up with the reality,” a diplomatic source said, explaining that Israel cannot be expected to vacate major settlements in the West Bank.

Sharon’s office said only, “The issue is under discussion between us and the Americans.”

A team of American experts is scheduled to arrive in Israel in September to attend talks now being held between U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer and the defense minister’s adviser Baruch Spiegel on the freezing of settlements and the evacuation of outposts in the Gaza Strip.

Constance Mayer, a senior Middle East analyst in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, who formerly served in the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, will head the team.

The team will also include aerial photography experts who will help set construction boundaries in the settlements.

Arafat aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh was not happy with the shift in American policy.

“Your president is going to harm the peace process and is encouraging Sharon to continue his aggressions against our people,” Rdeneh told WorldNetDaily.

In his battered Ramallah compound, Arafat called an emergency meeting of the Fatah Central Committee to discuss the new American policy.

Arafat reportedly called the U.S. support of West Bank settlements a “dangerous development.”

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei said he was waiting for confirmation of the apparent shift in U.S. policy, adding he would be “shocked” if it were true.

“I can’t believe that America is now saying that settlements can be expanded. This will destroy the peace process,” Qurei told reporters.

“What peace process?” responded an Israeli source. “That was already destroyed after Arafat turned down Camp David without even a counter offer, and instead decided to launch a bloody intifadah to drive Israel into the sea.”