Washington backs down on demand that Israel mark settlement boundaries
Washington has rescinded its demand that Israel and the U.S. jointly mark the boundaries of settlements in the West Bank, according to American and Israeli officials.
Neither side reportedly has an interest in marking the boundaries: for Israel, it would be an uncomfortable concession; for the U.S., it would legitimize the existing settlements.
U.S. officials said they are now making due with warning Israel to refrain from expanding the West Bank settlements. As an effect of such warnings, they note that most construction licenses in recent years have been given within the large settlement blocs or within built-up areas.
The boundary-marking plan began in 2001 with the Mitchell Committee, which called for a freeze on settlement construction. In 2003, Israel pledged to limit construction to the "present construction line," in order to meet the U.S. demand not to take over land to be part of the future Palestinian state.
However, Washington did not make do with Israel's pledge. It demanded clarifications regarding the definition of the construction line of each settlement. In April 2004, Dov Weissglas, special adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said an Israeli team would work with U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer to create a better definition of the construction line through aerial photos. Baruch Spiegel, an adviser to Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, began collecting the data. The U.S. put together its own team of map experts, which was to come to Israel to mark the settlement boundaries.
Israel wanted the boundary marking to begin with the small isolated settlements, leaving the marking of major settlement-bloc boundaries until the end of the process, in keeping with Sharon's position that the large blocs would eventually be annexed to Israel. However, the U.S. objected, canceling the visit of its mapping team. A few weeks later, talks stopped between Spiegel and Kurtzer, after it was realized that Sharon was going ahead with disengagement, which was then given priority.
Now, with disengagement complete, Washington is returning to its demand to dismantle the outposts. But it has backed down from its demand to mark settlement boundaries, and may also show understanding of Sharon's political position, and expect at most only a symbolic dismantling of a few outposts before elections.