US 'road map' assessment seen critical of Israel

The United States is not satisfied with the pace at which Israel is moving to implement a long-stalled peace “road map”, US and Western officials said ahead of a key meeting to assess compliance with the plan.

Officials said Washington also believed the Palestinians needed to do far more to meet their obligations to boost security and rein in militants in the West Bank, though US officials have privately complained to Israel that its frequent raids were undermining those efforts.

US and Western officials said Washington was particularly critical of Israel’s decision to push ahead with Jewish settlement expansion on occupied land, a move they see as damaging to US-backed peace talks with the Palestinians.

Israel has also so far failed to uproot outposts built without government authorisation in the occupied West Bank.

Though wary of publicly criticising Israel, a key ally, US President George Bush is under mounting Arab and European pressure to take a firmer stance as monitor and judge of whether the sides are meeting their commitments under the 2003 road map.

It calls on Israel to remove outposts and halt settlement activity, including so-called “natural growth” of those settlements, and asks Palestinians to crack down on militants.

US General William Fraser, appointed by the US Secretary of State to help oversee road map implementation, plans to convene on Friday the first meeting of a US-Israeli-Palestinian committee to assess steps taken by both sides under the plan.

“They’ve got a long way to go, there’s a lot more work to do, and no one is moving as fast as the president would like them to,” said White House spokesperson Dana Perino.

Settlements

Launched in November with the goal of reaching a statehood agreement before Bush leaves office next January, the peace talks have been marred by disputes over settlement building and Israeli offensives in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

Israel angered Washington on Sunday by announcing plans to build hundreds of new homes in the Givat Ze’ev settlement in the West Bank, officials said.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson Arye Mekel said the construction at Givat Ze’ev dated back nearly a decade and that the Jewish state’s commitment was not to expand existing settlements “beyond the original, approved master plan”.

Fayyad points to his security campaign in the West Bank city of Nablus as a sign Palestinians are meeting their commitments.

Israeli officials say Palestinian forces may be improving but have a long way to go, an assessment shared by Washington.

Washington believes the Palestinian crackdown in Nablus did “a lot to improve the security situation” but did not address all the problems, a senior US official said.

“Since the additional forces are no longer there, the intensity of the efforts there have not continued,” he added.

Washington believes that Abbas’s security capabilities will improve by summer when Palestinian forces return from advanced US-funded training in Jordan. - Reuters

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