- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Israel’s plan to expand a major Jewish settlement east of Jerusalem likely will not be implemented anytime soon, an Israeli security source said yesterday.

The project threatens to cast a pall over a visit next week between President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Crawford, Texas.

Israel’s government has approved a decade-old plan to build 3,500 houses in the area linking the largest Jewish settlement in the West Bank — Ma’aleh Adumim — with Jerusalem.

Mr. Bush said yesterday that there should be “no expansion” of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories under the U.S.-backed “road map” to Middle East peace.

“Our position is very clear, that the road map is important, and the road map calls for no expansion of the settlements,” he told reporters.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said that the planned expansion of Ma’aleh Adumim is different from other cases.

“Because we know that Ma’aleh Adumim will be inside Israel, we believe that developing an area that will be inside Israel anyway should not be a problem,” Mr. Regev said by phone from Jerusalem.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Sharon will discuss the plan when they meet next week, the spokesman said.

Mr. Regev declined to say whether Israel would consider scrapping the plan. “I don’t want to get into those discussions. The discussions are ongoing. I can only hope that we can reach understanding on these issues. We will keep working at it until we do.”

One Israeli security source told The Washington Times that the plan has been moving slowly through Israeli government channels for about 10 years, with the aim of strengthening Jerusalem and securing the eastern part of the city.

“It was never implemented, but it was moving slowly because of political sensitivities,” he said. “Because if you do implement this … plan, it might affect the prospect of Palestinian contiguity between the northern and southern parts of the West Bank.”

But rather than kill the plan — which would infuriate Israeli hard-liners — it was allowed just to shuffle through the bureaucratic process at a snail’s pace.

The latest approval to build 3,500 homes, the source said, was just moving the project one scale up in a long process. “It is not something operational.”

There are no plans within the Ministry of Construction and Housing to move ahead this year or next, he said.

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