- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 8, 2001

Israels deputy prime minister, Silvan Shalom, yesterday hailed the Mitchell Commissions call for an immediate end to Palestinian violence but rejected its call for an end to Israeli settlement construction.

Israel will not build new settlements but will build "a few hundred" apartments or homes to accommodate expanding families among the 200,000 Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza, Mr. Shalom said.

"I hope Chairman Arafat will read this report, which says no resumption of negotiations until there is a cease-fire," Mr. Shalom told reporters and editors during an interview at The Washington Times.

"We are willing to cease fire one hour from now."

Mr. Shalom, in Washington for meetings with World Bank officials and Treasury Secretary Paul H. O´Neill, also accused Mr. Arafat of approving all the violence against Israel — including car bombs, sniping and stone throwing — since the peace process collapsed into a Palestinian uprising in September.

However, his government came under fresh criticism from the Bush administration, which said Israeli tank attacks on areas already returned to the Palestinians amounted to a "serious escalation" of the violence.

Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer has given the Israeli army the green light to enter Palestinian-ruled territories to destroy what Mr. Shalom called "the infrastructure of terror." Israeli troops briefly thrust into the Palestinian West Bank town of Tulkarm on Sunday and again last night.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher yesterday called the incursions "a serious escalation that raises concerns that make it harder to resolve this and harder to break the cycle."

The spokesman also criticized the Palestinians, saying they "also have their responsibility to immediately end provocative acts of violence emanating from areas under their control, including the shootings, the bombings, the mortar attacks."

Both Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leaders have praised portions of the report by the Mitchell Commission, appointed by President Clinton last year to investigate the causes of violence in the Middle East.

"In all, there are many things which are positive to Israel," but some things are "unacceptable to us," Mr. Sharon said yesterday of the 32-page report submitted Friday by the committee led by former Sen. George Mitchell.

Both Palestinians and Israelis glossed over the parts critical of their policies and hailed those critical of the other party.

Palestinian officials have noted that the report says any halt to the violence "will be particularly hard to sustain unless the government of Israel freezes all settlement construction activity."

Mr. Shalom said some construction would continue, to build schools and housing for settlers needing their own homes as they grew up and formed their own families.

Mr. Shalom is one of three Israeli deputy prime ministers and also serves as finance minister. He would not discuss the content of his talks with Mr. O´Neill and the World Bank, but did say there were some differences of opinion with the Americans.

Israel has been seeking an increase in its nearly $3 billion in combined annual military and economic aid to cover redeployment costs from evacuating South Lebanon last year.

Mr. Shalom declined to say whether Israel was seeking any funds for settlement construction and was unable to say how much Israel was spending on such construction in Gaza and the West Bank, which were seized in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

Mr. Shalom did note that "the United States is the greatest supporter of Israel in the last three decades, and we appreciate it."

He called on the United States "to push the Palestinians to have a cease-fire."

"The United States has many friends who are funding the Palestinians such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and donors from Europe."

"When Arafat will understand that he can´t continue on both tracks — terror on one and negotiations on the other — he´ll come to cease-fire," Mr. Shalom said. "The only country that can do this is the United States."

Mr. Sharon hailed the Mitchell report´s refusal to endorse a Palestinian and Arab call for an international force to intervene, but he rejected its request that Israel use only nonlethal force against unarmed Palestinians.

Israelis see mobs of Palestinians armed with chunks of concrete and large stones as posing a mortal threat to their soldiers and have authorized the use of lethal weapons to meet such threats.

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