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Israel may halt new Palestinian city over 'green concerns'

US urges Arabs to back continued Israel-Palestinian talks
Washington (AFP) Oct 6, 2010 - The United States stepped up efforts Tuesday to press Arab ministers who will meet later this week to back continued Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which risk derailing over Jewish settlements. Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas plans to decide at Friday's Arab League meeting in Libya whether he will carry out a repeated threat to walk out of the peace talks over settlement building in the occupied West Bank. "What we want out of the Arab League is continued support for direct negotiations that we have just launched," US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters.

Arab foreign ministers are due to weigh in on the issue of settlements when they meet in the Libyan city of Sirte to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian talks that were launched a month ago in Washington. Crowley said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed how to obtain a "successful outcome" at the Arab League meeting when she spoke by phone Monday with Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh of Jordan, a sponsor of the peace talks. US Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who toured the Middle East last week in a bid to save the fledgling talks, has also made calls of his own from Washington, Crowley said. "We are intensively engaged. We are in touch with the Palestinians. We are in touch with the Israelis. We are in touch with countries that will be participating in the Arab League meeting on Friday," Crowley said.

"Our message is clear... We are at a critical stage in this process. We want to see the negotiations continue. We don't want to see the parties step away from this process," he said. "And we continue to offer ideas to both sides as to how to navigate through the settlement issue that currently confronts us," he added. The White House has denied reports that US President Barack Obama sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offering Israel incentives to extend by two months a moratorium on settlements that expired September 26. "We believe, if we can get past this immediate challenge (of settlements), then we can get more substantively into and address the core issues and ultimately reach a successful negotiations within 12 months," Crowley said. "So we're doing everything that we can to convince the parties to remain committed to these negotiations," he said. Clinton was also due to meet in Washington with Tony Blair, the representative of the Quartet on Middle East peace. The Quartet is made up of the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations.
by Staff Writers
Jerusalem (AFP) Oct 6, 2010
Israel's hawkish environment minister, who backs continuing Jewish settlement in the West Bank, said on Wednesday he was seeking to halt construction of a new Palestinian city over "green" concerns.

Gilad Erdan told Israel's army radio it was "a mistake" for Israel to allow the Palestinians to break ground on the massive new project to build a city called Rawabi just north of Ramallah.

Asked if he was trying to halt construction of the project, which will cost some 700 million dollars (570 million euros), until it complies with certain environmental criteria, Erdan replied: "Exactly."

"I don't like the establishment of that city. I think it was a mistake to allow it," he said, claiming that the Palestinians had no proper plans for managing sewage or other waste generated from the city, which will house some 40,000 people.

But Bashar al-Masri, head of the Bayti Real Estate Investment Co, which is jointly running the Rawabi project, denied Erdan's claims, telling AFP US-funded plans for a sewage and waste water treatment plant were well under way.

"The environment is very important to us and we are coordinating with the Americans over the sewage issue," he said, adding that three US companies were competing on a contract for a waste water treatment plant that would serve Rawabi and the surrounding villages.

"Rawabi is well planned and we are ready for any investigation into what we do," he said.

Erdan, a hardliner from the right-wing Likud party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, made no secret of his disapproval of the huge construction project.

"At a political level, I don't like the idea (that they are building) in territories over which there is a dispute about ownership and sovereignty," he said.

"On one hand, they are building thousands of housing units, while on the other side, every stone that is moved creates a scandal," he said, referring to the furore that erupted last week when Jewish settlers began building after the expiry of a 10-month freeze on West Bank construction.

The end of the moratorium is threatening to torpedo peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which resumed on September 2.

"But let's put that to one side," Erdan said, insisting he did not want to mix environmental issues with politics.

"I have turned to the defence minister (Ehud Barak) and the civil administration and said: 'OK, this train has already got under way, and this city will be built but let's demand at the very least that it doesn't damage the environment'," he said.

The civil administration is the Israeli military body that runs civilian affairs in the occupied West Bank.

Although Rawabi is being built in Area A, which is governed by the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, the roads connecting it to Ramallah and the surrounding area run through Area C, which is under complete Israeli military control.

During a tour of the construction site on Tuesday, Erdan told reporters that if questions over sewage, water and waste disposal were not resolved, he would seek to have access roads to the site cut off, effectively freezing construction, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Developers involved in the project have sought permission for the access roads leading to Rawabi to be rezoned, the paper said.

Although the developers were not obliged to show their environmental assessment to the Israeli environment ministry, they did so following pressure from the civil admininistration, it added.

Work on the project, the largest of its kind in the occupied Palestinian territories, began in January and is being carried out by the Bayti Real Estate Investment Co and Qatar's Diar Real Estate Co.

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