by RAY FLEMING
AN Israeli government spokesman said yesterday that the United States backs Ariel Sharon's authorisation of the construction of more than 1'000 new Jewish settler homes in the West Bank: “The plan is within the guidelines of the government and the agreements with the Americans,” said the official. If that is true it makes clear what depths the current American administration is prepared to plumb in order to avoid offending Jewish voters in the United States in the run-up to the November Presidential election. If it is not true we are entitled to expect a clarification, if not a denial, from the White House.

The probability is that Mr Sharon is stretching the understanding he arrived at with Mr Bush during his most recent meeting in Washington and that Mr Bush recognises the Israeli prime minister has problems in getting support within his government for his Gaza withdrawal plan, also agreed upon at that meeting, and doesn't want to make life too difficult for his friend. After all, George W. would say to Condoleeza, “Ariel is only recognising ‘the realities on the ground'.” Unfortunately, what President Bush calls “the realities on the ground” are illegal realities; the West Bank settlements (small towns, in fact) are illegal under international law, as are the more than 100 unauthorised so-called “wildcat” settlements built in the last three years. While Ariel Sharon takes advantage of Mr Bush's weakness in an election year, what are the other members of the “Quartet”, which created the road-map for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, having to say about this latest breach of its guidelines by Israel? Nothing. The UN is silent, the EU is silent, Russia is silent. It's August. Israeli is taking advantage of that too.

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