Middle East Times (Editorial)
December 28, 2007 - 4:27pm

More roadblocks have sprung up on the Middle East road map to peace since the grand reunion organized by U.S. President George W. Bush at Annapolis just a few weeks ago, and where Israeli and Palestinian leaders promised to work toward a peaceful settlement of the 60-year conflict.

There must have been a misunderstanding somewhere along the line because instead of working toward a settlement of the crisis, Israel is instead working on settlements. Building more of them. Some 240 (some say 300) new units are planned in Har Homa, a large settlement in a disputed part of Jerusalem and part of a ring of Jewish settlements erected around East Jerusalem. This makes it all the more complicated to allow the Palestinians to establish the capital of their future state in East Jerusalem, as they hope to.

Israel has allocated $25 million in its 2008 budget for Jebel Abu Ghneim, or Har Homa in East Jerusalem: 240 new housing units and the expansion of 500 new housing units in Maale Adumim.

Qalandia, or Atarot: 10,000-15,000 new housing units in a new settlement to be constructed, authorized but not officially confirmed.

Since 2003 when the road map to peace was adopted, 116 "random outposts" were erected in the West Bank.

The Palestinians are asking that Israel stop construction, and are looking to the United States to intervene as an arbiter.

"This kills the credibility of the peace process," said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat of the planned construction.

That, and the roadblocks – or checkpoints – are side-tracking the negotiations between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas to an even slower lane. The two leaders are to meet today (Thursday) for the first time since Annapolis. Israel, for its part, says it remains committed to working out the problems.

"We attach great importance to our dialog with the Palestinian leadership and we understand that the process is challenging," said Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli government.

"Israel is committed to doing everything we can to make this process work."

But the continued work on the settlements only strengthens the argument put forward by those who do not believe in the peace process, like Hamas. The Islamist group who controls the Gaza Strip and commands much sympathy in the West Bank, said Thursday's meeting was "waste of time."

The construction was also criticized by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who met yesterday in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheik with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Barak asked Egypt to clamp down on the traffic of arms moving across the Sinai from Egypt to Gaza.

Tzipi Livni, Israel's foreign minister angered Cairo when she accused Egyptian security forces of doing a "terrible" job in policing the border. Livni said the flow of weapons to Gaza was harming negotiations with the Palestinians. But so is the continued building of more settlements. Both need to stop if the peace process is to proceed with any credibility.


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