Barak approves expansion of West Bank settlements
October 11, 1999
JERUSALEM -- Prime Minister Ehud Barak on Monday approved a decision to build 2,600 new apartments in West Bank settlements, but said that Israel will not permit outlaw Jewish settlers to remain in the Palestinian territory.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior Palestinian peace negotiator, accused Barak of "giving a green light to settlement activities," which Palestinians say could threaten ongoing peace talks.
A government committee on settlements met Sunday for the first time since Barak, a Labor Party moderate, took office in July to review construction projects approved under his right-wing predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu.
The committee decided that the bids for 2,600 new homes in the settlements, issued in recent months by Housing Minister Yitzhak Levy, "were publicized legally and are in tandem with government policy," a statement from Barak's office said. Levy is the leader of the National Religious Party, a patron of the settlement movement.
Aide suggests Barak will evict some settlers
Barak, elected in May on a promise to make peace with the Palestinians, declined to say whether he would uproot any of 42 Jewish strongholds whose fate a Cabinet committee Sunday agreed to let him decide.
"They are not allowed to decide for themselves what should be done," Barak told reporters. "It all should be under the full control of the freely elected government of Israel and this is exactly what we are going to make clear -- that no one can take private political initiatives, illegal ones, on his own."
One of Barak's Cabinet ministers, however, said earlier that the prime minister would dismantle seven of the settlement outposts.
Many of the outposts were set up over the past year by settlers who said they wanted to seize as much land as possible to prevent it from being transferred to the Palestinians.
Palestinians want all settlements removed
The Palestinians contend that all Jewish settlements are illegal and must be removed under a final peace plan.
"If Mr. Barak will remove just seven or 10 outposts, this will be nonsense," said Salah al-Ta'mari, a Palestinian negotiator specializing in settlement affairs. "Settlements are illegal because they are set up on an occupied land."
Some 170,000 Jews live in 160 settlements scattered among nearly 3 million Palestinians across the West Bank and Gaza, which Israel has occupied since the 1967 Middle East war.
The Palestinians and Israelis have set February as a target date for a draft agreement on a peace plan outlining the fate of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, the future of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and permanent borders. The two sides hope to reach a final accord by September 2000.
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