March 14, 2005
JERUSALEM - Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has approved the final route of a barrier around Jerusalem that will include the largest Jewish settlement in the West Bank on the Israeli side, officials said Monday, prompting Palestinian complaints that Israel is endangering fledgling peace efforts.
The decision means the barrier will encompass lands claimed by the Palestinians for a future state, including traditionally Arab east Jerusalem, the intended Palestinian capital. The barrier will also include a chunk of the Palestinian town of Bethlehem, south of Jerusalem, to include a Jewish shrine, officials said.
Israel began building a separation barrier in the West Bank two years ago, saying its aim was to keep out Palestinian attackers. Palestinians say Israel could have built the barrier on its territory if the only concern was security. They say the real intention was to grab West Bank land and draw a final border without waiting for a peace deal. One-third of the barrier has been completed.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi said after a meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas that the United Nations is establishing a register of damages to Palestinian property and claims against Israel resulting from the barrier construction.
"We are establishing that register to be able in time to help with those claims," he said.
Annan spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the U.N. General Assembly had voted for the establishment of the register, but that it was not a mechanism for exacting compensation claims.
Annan said the U.N. position on the barrier is clear. The U.N. General Assembly has passed a resolution against the barrier, and the United Nation's world court said in an advisory ruling last year that the barrier is illegal and must be torn down.
The decision on the final route of the Jerusalem segment of the barrier was made late Sunday in a meeting of senior Cabinet ministers chaired by Sharon, said a senior government official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Under the plan, prepared by the National Security Council, the West Bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim would be included on the Israeli side of the barrier. Eleven crossings would be built into the barrier to allow access from the West Bank, and construction is to be completed by the end of the year, the official said.
The Palestinian refugee camp of Shuafat, which straddles the Jerusalem municipal boundary, will be encircled by a separate fence, with a crossing into the city. Many camp residents have Jerusalem identity cards. In Bethlehem, the barrier will cut off Rachel's Tomb, a Jewish shrine, from the rest of the city.
The Israeli government official said the barrier largely follows Jerusalem's municipal boundaries. Israel drew those boundaries after capturing east Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war; at the time, it annexed that sector and several West Bank villages to the city.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat warned that approval of the Jerusalem segment could destroy efforts to revive peace talks. "This is a policy of dictation and not negotiation," Erekat said. "This prejudges and prejudices the outcome of permanent status negotiations."
Israeli Vice Premier Ehud Olmert, who heads a ministerial committee on the Jerusalem barrier, did not refer directly to Sunday's meeting. Asked by Israel Radio about the fate of Maaleh Adumim, he said: "Does anyone have even the slightest doubt that Maaleh Adumim is an integral part of Israel?"
Olmert said he expected no opposition from the United States, pointing to assurances by President Bush last year that any final Israeli-Palestinian peace deal would have to recognize demographic realities. Israel understood that to mean that Bush supports Israel's plan to annex large Jewish settlements in the West Bank as part of any deal with the Palestinians.
In other developments, Abbas said in an interview with Israel TV that he expects Palestinian militant groups to join a formal cease-fire declaration after a meeting in Cairo this week. An informal truce has been in place since a Mideast summit Feb. 8. Abbas was to leave later Monday for three days of meetings with leaders of the armed groups in Cairo.
Later Monday, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Palestinian Interior Minister Nasser Yousef were to meet in another attempt to agree on the terms of handing over five West Bank towns to Palestinian control. The handover was decided on at the February summit, but Israel has balked at Palestinian demands to remove Israeli army roadblocks ringing the towns.
The Palestinians say that without a removal of roadblocks, a handover is meaningless. Israel says the Palestinian security forces must do a better job reining in militants before the roadblocks can be removed.
In the Gaza Strip, two Palestinian teens, ages 16 and 17, were shot and wounded by Israeli troops after they entered a no-go zone near the border fence with Israel. One of the teens was treated at a Palestinian hospital and the second was arrested by Israeli troops.