The United States is said to be pressuring Israel to
suspend construction of a security fence to protect the Jewish state from
Palestinian insurgents in the West Bank.
Israeli and U.S. officials said the Bush administration has relayed a
series of messages to the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that
called for a suspension of any decision to complete the 370-kilometer
security fence. The officials said President George Bush has determined that
the electronic fence endangers the so-called roadmap plan drafted by the
international community to establish an interim Palestinian state by the end
Secretary of State Colin Powell reported the U.S. pressure on Israel to
stop the 350-kilometer security fence in a news conference that followed a
meeting with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. Powell said the issue of the
security fence was discussed with Shalom on Wednesday. Shalom has met
administration officials to prepare for the arrival of Sharon to Washington
"We are having conversations with our Israeli colleagues about the
fence, and the next phase of fence construction, and whether or not we have
to take a more serious, in-depth look at those construction activities to
see whether or not it helps the process as we move forward, or whether there
are other adjustments that might be made," Powell said. "My colleague is
aware of the concerns that we have about the fence."
U.S. officials said the administration has been receiving nearly daily
reports on the fence by the Palestinian Authority as well as the U.S.
consulate in Jerusalem and the embassy in Tel Aviv. They said the
administration has demanded that Israel suspend the construction of the
fence and change its proposed location so it would not encompass an enclave
of Israeli communities in the West Bank.
Shalom has acknowledged the dispute between Israel and the United States
over the security fence. But the foreign minister said the core issue
between the two countries remains the implementation of the roadmap, which
also calls for the end of the Palestinian war against Israel and the
dismantling of insurgency groups.
"There is perhaps a lack of coordination between our [U.S.] position and
theirs," Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said.
Sharon, who has delayed a decision to allocate $170 million to complete
the fence, is scheduled to arrive in Washington on Tuesday and meet Bush.
Officials said Bush is expected to demand the suspension of the fence
project and the release of additional Palestinian prisoners. Israel has
agreed to the release of at least 420 Palestinians.
Israel's security agency has recommended that the Sharon government
release 520 Palestinian insurgents. The Israel Security Agency said in its
recommendation that the detained
insurgents should include members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The agency did
not recommend that Israel consider releasing Palestinians who were convicted
of killing Israelis.