- Ariel Sharon has brushed aside an appeal by the White
House to stop an unprecedented move by Jewish settlers into a Palestinian
district of Jersualem which his critics say will further hinder a political
- After more than two years of legal and political wrangling,
Mr Sharon's office approved the plan last week and the first Jewish families
have moved into new flats in the Ma'aleh Ha'zeitim settlement, beside the
densely populated Arab district of Ras al-Amoud.
- It is the first time a Jewish settlement has been built
in a Palestinian area of Jerusalem since Israel seized control of the entire
city in 1967.
- The first settlers at the apartment complex, just a few
hundred metres from the Wailing Wall, include a millionaire, Irving Moskowitz,
and his son-in-law Ariel King, a far-right political activist.
- More than 100 more families are expected to move in during
the coming months.
- Condoleezza Rice, the White House national security adviser,
telephoned Mr Sharon's office and warned that letting Jews move into the
settlement might raise tension during the war on Iraq and further undermine
the prospect of a political settlement.
- Danny Seidemann, an adviser to previous Israeli leaders
on how to divide Jerusalem, said Mr Sharon's approval for the settlers'
move into Ma'aleh Ha'zeitim was a test for George Bush and Tony Blair,
who meet in Belfast today to discuss, among other things, the "road
map" to a Middle East peace deal which envisages a Palestinian state
within three years.
- "This is not something Sharon turned a blind eye
to. This is something he gave the go ahead for even after Condoleezza Rice
asked him not to," he said.
- "The Jewish settlement in Ras al-Amoud makes a resolution
more difficult and undermines the stability of the city. If the US is serious
about the road map it will not countenance unilateral action on the settlements
that predetermine an outcome to negotiations.
- "If Mr Blair accepts this, it undermines his credibility
when he says he is serious about the road map."
- At the weekend Mr Sharon's chief aide, Dov Weisglass,
said Israel was not prepared to make any concessions on "security
issues"and would walk out of negotiations on the road map if forced
to do so.
- The prime minister's critics say that Ma'aleh Ha'zeitim
is a political tactic to block the possibility of dividing Jerusalem as
part of a peace deal.
- It also undermines plans under the Camp David accords
for a corridor to give Palestinians access to Muslim sites in Jerusalem's
old city without having to pass through Israeli territory.
- The flats at Ma'aleh Ha'zeitim are built on land bought
in the 19th century by religious groups to expand a Jewish cemetery.
- The property fell into Jordanian hands after Palestine
was divided in 1948.
- Jewish groups argue that they are entitled to live on
the land, and to remove the Palestinian "squatters", under the
Jews' right of return.
- The courts agree, even though no similar right is extended
to Palestinians driven from their homes in West Jerusalem.
- Moreover, the supreme court has ruled that Palestinians
cannot buy property in the Jewish quarter of the city, even if they once
- Moni Mordecai, director of the pressure group Peace Now,
accused the government of using the war in Iraq as a cover for the decision.
- "The timing of this action raises the suspicion
that the government intends to enable this underhanded opportunism that
they hope will go unnoticed in the international community, to exploit
a situation that holds disastrous implications for the area," he said.
- Eyal Hareuveni, director of the Jerusalem branch of Peace
Now, said: "This is a settler group, extremists who want to transfer
the Arabs [out of their homeland].
- "This is only a recipe for friction and violence."
- An Israeli spokesman said the government had followed
legal procedures in permitting the settlers to move in, and denied that
it had a political motive.