The U. S. State Department leveled criticism at Israel on Tuesday, in light of reports Israel is building its West Bank separation fence in the region of the settlement city of Ariel, despite agreements on to the contrary reached with the United States.
Spokesman Richard Boucher said the American position is very clear that the barrier is problematic because it defines permanent boundaries, confiscates Palestinian territories and makes daily life more difficult for Palestinian civilians.
Boucher said that this stance has been presented to Israel, Boucher said.
Israel has already begun preparations for the construction of the separation fence east of Ariel, as well as the Kedumim and Immanuel settlements.
Two weeks ago, Defense Ministry officials sent Palestinian residents of the town of Salfit, south of Ariel, preliminary appropriation orders for land upon which the fence is to be built.
This appropriation move conflicts with the U.S. government's understanding that such steps would not be taken in the foreseeable future, and that the separation fence project in these West Bank areas would be deferred.
But the move upholds a promise given by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu which clinched the latter's support for the disengagement plan: Sharon indicated to Netanyahu that the separation fence in the Ariel area would be completed before the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is finished.
Netzah Mashiah, who heads the Defense Ministry's seam area authority, told Haaretz on Sunday that plans call for the completion of the separation fence east of Ariel, Immanuel and Kedumim by May 2005.
About two weeks ago, civil administration officials in this West Bank region met with Palestinian Authority delegates and presented the land appropriation orders, along with a map of the precise area slated for the fence - the area is 3.5 kilometers long, and 100 meters wide, and runs between Ariel and Salfit.
Appropriation orders for the Immanuel and Kedumim areas will be released in coming weeks. After these orders are issued, construction of the separation fence in the heart of the West Bank will begin.
The lands to be appropriated in the Salfit area are the southern part of what Israeli security officials refer to as the "fingernails" zone - the term alludes to separation fence stretches that will ring large Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Fingernails planned for construction include the area around Kedumim in the north; around Immanuel and Karnei Shomron in the center of this West Bank region; and Ariel in the south. According to plans, the fingernails will in the future be expanded into what Israeli officials call "fingers" - meaning the separation fence will be continued up to the 1967 Green Line border. The current plan to build the separation fence from Ariel to Kedumim would eventually lead to the annexation of 150 kilometers of West Bank land to Israeli territory.
Mashiah explains: "The appropriation orders distributed in the Salfit area are for the southern part of the Ariel fingernail and legal work [for the security fence construction] in this area has been completed. All of the fingernails in this West Bank area - in Kedumim, Immanuel and Ariel - will be completed, according to the plans, by May 2005. Construction of what is called the fingers [i.e. the expansion of the fence up to the Green Line] is supposed to start in early 2005, but no fixed timetable for the completion of this stage of the work has been determined."
American officials originally demanded that Israel abandon plans to build the separation fence in these areas of the West Bank.
Subsequently an agreement was reached with officials in Washington under which the fingernails are to be completed in 2004 east of Ariel, Kedumim and Immanuel, and then a year later these fence stretches are to be connected to the Green Line.
Recently, Defense Ministry officials have tried to coordinate construction of the fingernails with settlers from the area, security officials have told Haaretz. However, in the Kedumim area, Jewish residents have voiced opposition to the plan to build the separation fence around their settlement. Also, legal obstacles impeded the construction of the fence in the Immanuel area, say the security officials.
Due to this combination of legal impediments and settler resistance in cases of two of the planned fingernails, the defense establishment decided two weeks ago to focus efforts in the southern stretch of the fence, around Ariel, these officials explain.
Caught in enclavesDozens of Palestinian villages will be affected by the construction of the separation fence in these stretches of the West Bank. Residents of some of these villages will be caught in enclaves.
Under appropriation orders issued two weeks ago by civil administration officials to land owners in Salfit, the property is to be taken by the end of 2007.
Nawaf Suf, a PA liaison official from the Salfit area said Sunday: "We all know that expropriated land will never be returned to its owners, even if not even a centimeter of the separation fence is ever built ... The fence will promote development of the settlements, whereas it will cut off and destroy life in local Palestinian villages, whose residents will become hostages."
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