U.S., Israel Discuss Internal Growth in West Bank Settlements
The Bush administration is negotiating with Israel over whether its settlements in the West Bank can grow within existing settlement boundaries, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday...U.S. officials have quietly discussed ways to accommodate Israeli concerns, but in public statements they have insisted that a freeze on settlement growth means a freeze.
In an interview with Egyptian television, however, Powell said: "We are concerned about all kinds of settlement activity, to include different definitions of what growth is. And we're working with the Israelis to define what a settlement is and what the difference is between natural growth and expansion, and is natural growth something that is consistent with the Israelis' commitments to us."
Israeli officials and some administration officials said Powell's statement appears to be the first official acknowledgment that the United States is prepared to adopt a more flexible definition of a freeze as sought by Israel.
...At a briefing on Aug. 18, when asked if natural growth of settlements was open to interpretation, spokesman J. Adam Ereli said: "I don't have anything for you on that." But last month, also during an interview with Egyptian television, Deputy
Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage mused openly about a definition of natural growth. "If you have settlements that already exist and you put more people into them but don't expand the physical, sort of, the area -- that might be one thing," he said...In fact, some key administration officials, such as Elliott Abrams, the top
Middle East specialist on the White House's National Security Council staff, privately have long pressed for a more expansive definition of natural growth.
...In April, President Bush said that Israel could expect to retain some West Bank settlements in a final peace deal because of "new realities on the ground." In a letter to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice at the time, a top Israeli aide to Sharon committed to quickly seeking restrictions on settlement growth, including having U.S. and Israeli officials "jointly define the construction line of each of the settlements."...
His WashPost source.