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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Enlarged Settlement Angers Palestinians




JERUSALEM -- Israel's outgoing right-wing government expanded the borders of a Jewish settlement, angering Palestinians who on Friday called it a bid to cement Israel's hold over occupied West Bank land adjacent to Jerusalem.


The top Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, also demanded that incoming Prime Minister Ehud Barak, a moderate, rescind the decision made by the outgoing government.


The future of peacemaking is at stake, Erekat said.


The Palestinians immediately asked the United States to intervene. Erekat gave John Herbst, the U.S. consul general in Jerusalem, a letter asking for "immediate American intervention to end these destructive practices so that the attempt to put the peace process back on track can succeed."


Outgoing Defense Minister Moshe Arens decided recently to add 10 square kilometers to the settlement of Maale Adumim, east of Jerusalem. The decision was reported Friday by Israeli media and confirmed by Arens adviser Avi Kalstein.


"It is just a formal authorization. It has nothing to do with the election. It just says the area belongs to Maale Adumim," Kalstein said.


With the expansion, Maale Adumim will border on Jerusalem and further cut off the eastern sector of the city, claimed by the Palestinians as a future capital, from its West Bank hinterland.


An enlarged Maale Adumim will also make it more difficult for Israel and the Palestinians to reach a creative solution on the future of Jerusalem, the most explosive issue in their conflict.


One idea that had emerged in informal talks between Israel and the Palestinians was to establish the Palestinian capital in the town of Abu Dis, on the West Bank fringes of east Jerusalem. With Maale Adumim expanding, Abu Dis would have less room to develop.


Yossi Beilin, a leading member of Barak's Labor Party who had discussed the Abu Dis plan with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's deputy, Mahmoud Abbas, several years ago, said Arens' decision was a provocation.


Beilin said Israel and the Palestinians could probably reach agreement on a link between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim, but that it must be done through negotiations, not unilateral decisions.


Erekat said that after learning of Arens' decision, he sent a letter to U.S. Mideast coordinator Dennis Ross on Friday, asking him to pressure Israel to stop all settlement activity in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.


Erekat said he also contacted foreign diplomats and Israeli politicians, but would not provide details.


Barak's aides were not immediately available to comment Friday.


Barak, who is expected to take power in about a month after forming his coalition, has been ambiguous on settlements.


While suggesting some settlements might be dismantled in the future, Barak has also assured potential coalition partners that he will not cut off funding to the communities for now.


Barak has also said that Israel reserves the right to build Jewish neighborhoods in traditionally Arab east Jerusalem, but that the timing of such construction should be carefully considered.


The Palestinians demand that he halt the recently begun construction of two such neighborhoods in the Ras al-Amud and Har Homa areas of east Jerusalem.


On Thursday, Palestinians and Israeli peace activists clashed with police near the Ras al-Amud plot where Florida millionaire Irving Moskowitz is building 132 apartments for Jews.


Erekat warned that the expansion of Maale Adumim could spark more violence and could turn the area into another Kosovo.


With about 25,000 residents, Maale Adumim is the largest Israeli settlement in the West Bank.


The expansion plan was proposed in 1993 by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. After the plan was deposited with planning authorities, Palestinians filed more than 80 objections.