U.S. Seeks Explanation for Building in Ma'aleh Adumim

PM gives no time frame for beginning construction work; Palestinian official Saeb Erekat: This project will destroy the peace process.

The U.S. State Department on Monday expressed displeasure with Israel's decision to build in Ma'aleh Adumim with the aim of connecting the West Bank's largest settlement to Jerusalem.

Officials said the matter would be raised in talks between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's advisor Dov Weisglass and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

A spokeswoman from the State Department's Middle East department said several hours before the Weisglass-Rice meeting that the U.S. will ask Israel to explain the decision on Ma'aleh Adumim.

Earlier on Monday, Sharon said Israel should press forward with a building plan to connect Ma'aleh Adumim and Jerusalem despite U.S. and Palestinian objections.

Sharon's comments on building 3,500 housing units in the five-kilometer (three-mile) corridor between the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim and the eastern part of Jerusalem came 10 days after National Security Council official Elliott Abrams and David Welch, assistant secretary of state for the Near East, asked Sharon pointed questions about the plan during a meeting in Jerusalem.

A participant at a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee said Sharon made it clear he wanted to move forward with building in the E-1 corridor, the designation for the land between Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim.

"There is a need to carry out construction in E-1," the participant quoted Sharon as saying. "This program has been in existence for 10 years. We should definitely move ahead with it."

Sharon give no time frame for beginning work on the project, the participant said.

U.S. officials have repeatedly objected to Israeli announcements of plans over the years to expand Ma'aleh Adumim, home to 30,000 Israelis.

Palestinians slam building plan Palestinians object to any Israeli construction in the West Bank and warn that the Ma'aleh Adumim plan could kill chances for peace by preventing creation of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned Sharon's remarks.

"If carried out, this E-1 project will destroy the peace process and will undermine prospects for any future negotiations on the final status agreements," Erekat said. "We call upon the U.S. to stop this project if they want to give the peace process a chance."

U.S. Embassy spokesman Paul Patin said the U.S. continued to hold Israel to its commitments under the "road map," the internationally backed Middle East peace plan.

The road map requires Israel to halt all construction in settlements, while demanding that the Palestinians dismantle violent groups responsible for attacks against Israelis.

Neither side fulfilled these initial obligations, and the plan has foundered since U.S. President George W. Bush presented it in 2003.

However, the road map has received renewed attention in recent weeks, since a February 8 summit declaration by Sharon and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas of an end to the bloodshed.

Olmert: Sharon counting on BushSharon is counting on President George W. Bush to keep his commitment that Israel can retain several large settlements near Jerusalem as part of a peace accord with the Palestinians, Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday.

In fact, "we do not need any assurances because it is crystal clear and it is simple," Olmert said in a telephone interview with American reporters. "When President Bush makes one commitment, it is enough."