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Bush urges freeze on West Bank settlement

Israeli prime minister visiting president at Texas ranch

Ariel Sharon, left, and President Bush talk to reporters Monday after their meeting in Crawford, Texas.
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George W. Bush
Ariel Sharon

CRAWFORD, Texas (CNN) -- President Bush said Monday that Israel must honor its commitment to halt the expansion of settlements on the West Bank after a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"I told the prime minister not to undertake any activity that contravenes the road map or prejudices final status obligations," Bush said. (Full story)

But he repeated his belief that "new realities on the ground" mean that major Jewish population centers on the West Bank will remain with Israel in a final settlement that results in a Palestinian state.

Israel announced last week that it would add 3,650 housing units to Ma'aleh Adumim, the largest Jewish settlement on the West Bank.

In response, Sharon said he was not disappointed in what Bush had said, noting that perhaps it was "too early" to discuss what will happen to large Jewish settlements like Ma'aleh Adumim.

Sharon said Ma'aleh Adumim was one "of the major blocks of the Jewish population. Our position is that it will be part of Israel" under a final status agreement with the Palestinians.

After their meeting, Bush told reporters that what is still lacking in the Middle East is "confidence."

"What we need is confidence," said the president. "What we need to do is succeed in Gaza."

He said after Sharon carries out his plan to withdraw Israeli troops and Jewish settlers from Gaza and a small portion of the West Bank, both sides will have a change in attitude.

"If there is success in Gaza, the prime minister will have a different attitude. There is skepticism now about the process."

Both men said the only plan forward is the road map, an outline backed by the United Nations, United States, European Union and Russia.

"Regarding the unauthorized outposts, I wish to reiterate that Israel is a society governed by the rule of law," said Sharon. "As such, I will fulfill my commitment to you, Mr. President, to remove unauthorized outposts. As to settlements, Israel will meet all its obligations under the road map."

The meeting was originally planned to allow Bush to express more support for Sharon's plan to pull Jewish settlers out of 21 settlements in Gaza and four small settlement in the West Bank, but news of the Ma'aleh Adumim expansion plans overshadowed the talks.

Ma'aleh Adumim has about 30,000 residents and is located near largely Arab East Jerusalem. Israel has said the new housing was part of the natural grown of Ma'aleh Adumim and it is important to link the area to Jerusalem. Palestinians have said that the plan would cut off Arab neighborhoods from the rest of what could become the Palestinian state.

Bush called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to respond favorably to Sharon's offer to coordinate in the pullout from Gaza.

Sharon noted that under the road map, the Palestinians are required to crack down on terrorist organizations. He said Abbas has "taken steps," but needs to do more.

"I believe to be able to move forward the Palestinians must take more steps," said Sharon. "It should be completely quiet."

Earlier, in an interview with NBC, Sharon said the atmosphere in Israel is "tense" like the "eve of the civil war." But elaborating further at the news conference, Sharon said while there are tensions, he believes the Gaza withdrawal will be successful.

During peace talks in Egypt on February 8, Sharon and Abbas announced a truce, and Palestinian militants declared a temporary cease-fire March 17.(Full story)

But hours ahead of Sharon's arrival in the United States, Israel Defense Forces said three Palestinian teenagers who were shot and killed by the Israeli military were involved in smuggling weapons from Egypt into Gaza.

Palestinian security sources had said the youths, two 15-year-olds and a 16-year-old, were playing soccer when they were killed Saturday. (Full story)

In Jerusalem on Sunday, Israeli police clashed with ultranationalist protesters who objected to plans to disengage from Gaza. (Full story)

During the talks, Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, told CNN that "the most important thing for Bush to do today is to have Mr. Sharon stop all settlement activity, including natural growth, and to stop the construction of the wall. Without these two things there will not be a vision of a two-state solution."

CNN's Elaine Quijano and Guy Raz contributed to this report.

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