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Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Israel to expand settlement even as Rice meets Olmert
Even as US Secretary Condoleezza Rice is on a visit to the Middle East, Israel announced an expansion of settlement in the West Bank Monday.

This has dealt a blow to Rice, who was holding talks with Israel’s Prime Minister Olmert on restarting the peace process in the region.

Israel’s Housing Ministry has invited bids for construction of 44 new housing units in Ma’aleh Adumim, the largest settlement in the occupied West Bank.

The news of the first tenders announced this year came as Rice and Olmert were meeting one-on-one for over two hours at the Premier’s Jerusalem residence.

Palestinians and the ‘Peace Now’ anti-settlement watchdog group warned that the move would jeopardise the international roadmap to Middle East peace – a plan which Rice has been pushing on her tour.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said: “Israel must make a choice between peace and settlements. It cannot have both. It is defying the international community and undermining US Secretary of State Rice’s peace efforts.”

Announcing the bids for the settlement on the last day of Rice’s trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories “is just spitting in the face of the American Government,” Peace Now spokesman Yariv Oppenheimer said.

The United States, the European Union (EU), Russia, and the United Nations were the authors of the Middle East roadmap, under which Israel was to freeze settlements. The plan has largely been dormant since its launch about four years ago.

Rice has said that the roadmap should be accelerated during her meetings with Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian leaders, after her arrival in the region on Saturday.

She had made it clear since the start of her tour that she is bringing no US proposals to jumpstart the peace process, saying, no plan can be ‘Made in America.’ But she stressed that “the United States is absolutely committed to helping find a solution” and to building on “the momentum that is currently in the Palestinian-Israeli relations.”

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