Analyst David Essing:
‘No Israeli Intention To Start Building 3,500 Ma’ale Adumim Housing Units In Near Future’

‘Defense Ministry Announcement Was Result Of Poor Publicity’

Broadcast April 7th, 2005 on IsraCast.com

Bush - Sharon
(Photos:Amit Shabi)

Both Israeli and U.S. officials have been working hard to clear up one flap after another in the run-up to next week’s summit meeting between U.S. President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the Bush ranch in Crawford Texas. First, there was the leak of what American Ambassador Dan Kurztzer did or did not say; and then the flak over Israel building 3,500 new housing units linking Ma’ale Adumim on the West Bank with Jerusalem.

David Essing reports:

Listen to the Report (4:37)

Israeli officials are emphatic: ‘There is no decision to start building 3,500 housing units linking Ma’ale Adumim and Jerusalem!’ The finger is being pointed at Israel’s Defense Ministry for a ‘poor publicity’ decision shortly before the Bush – Sharon summit.

Ma'ale Adumim

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was unaware the Defense Ministry was about to announce that all the administrative red tape had been cleared away for the construction project. Israeli officials stress that this in no way means that the ‘bulldozers will now be sent in to start clearing the ground’ for the big construction project. On the contrary, it could take another few years before building begins. One official does not rule out the possibility that a cabinet vote will be taken in the future on when to start building. So, from Jerusalem’s point of view the whole affair is nothing more than a storm in a teacup and this is likely to be the tenor of the message that Ariel Sharon conveys to George Bush in Crawford Texas. But officials in Jerusalem do not hide their feelings - ‘the timing was terrible’ for the Defense Ministry to make the announcement. Sharon officials also deny it was for domestic Israeli consumption.

Briefing the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee this week, Sharon was quoted as saying: ‘I do not see the issue as a problem’. The Prime Minister had apparently meant to convey that he was not about to start construction; however, some interrupted it as meaning the opposite. The fact that Shimon Peres and his Labor colleagues have not gone on the warpath is a pretty good indicator the government will not start the project any time soon.

Sharon officials do not see the latest flap as taking center-stage at the Crawford summit. There is no question that Israel and the U.S. do not see eye to eye on settlement building; Bush views it as a ‘No-No!’ whereas Sharon talks of building for ‘natural growth’ of the communities. Look for the two leaders to come up with some of Henry Kissinger’s ‘constructive ambiguity’ to gloss over this rough patch. The signs from both Washington and Jerusalem are that both sides want this eleventh Bush - Sharon confab to be as successful as the previous ten. That is, if no other gremlin gets into the act.

The two leaders have enough on their plates with Israel’s Gaza withdrawal this summer and then, how to roll it into kicking off the Roadmap process. Vice Premier Shimon Peres has been trying, without success, to get the Palestinians to coordinate the withdrawal and the World Bank to buy the settlers’ homes. The question is what if anything the U.S. and the other ‘Quartet’ members might have in mind, beyond Secretary Condoleezza Rice’s appeal to Israel not to carry out a ‘wholesale destruction’ of the evacuated settlers’ property.

At the summit, Sharon can be expected to make clear that he will not go for any ‘short-cuts’ to implementing the Roadmap. He insists that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas must make good on his commitment to dismantle the terror organizations and confiscate illegal weapons before there is a return to the conference table. The IDF intelligence briefing this week was not encouraging. The current lull in massive terror attacks (Pegueem) is deceiving. The terror groups are rebuilding their weapons arsenals including the development of Qassam rockets on the West Bank, which could put them within range of the big Israeli population centers of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Moreover, those Strella anti-aircraft missiles smuggled into the territories from Egypt are still unaccounted for. Sharon is taking a big calculated risk, some argue too big, although he warns that Israel’s reaction will be ‘very severe’ if the Palestinians dare attack while Israeli civilians are evacuating their homes in the Gaza Strip and 4 Samaria settlements.

In addition, with threats on the Temple Mount, assassination plots, Hezbollah and who knows what else, the countdown to the July 20th withdrawal date will be anything but serene, even if Sharon has navigated his course through a stormy political sea.

David Essing, ISRACAST, Jerusalem

Transcription done by Yael Yaffe-Last
Studio Production by Avi Yaffe Jerusalem Recording Studios LTD.


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