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Israel Defies US & Diverts Attention to Hizbullah

Israel Freezes ‘Roadmap’, Defies US and Diverts Attention to Hizbullah

Sending US Envoys Now and Then Is Insufficient: Yasser Abed Rabbo

Ahead of a visit by the US top Middle East envoy William Burns, Israel froze the US-sponsored “roadmap” peace plan, defied Washington on the Apartheid Separation Wall it is building on occupied Palestinian territory and diverted attention to its northern front, amid warnings that the Jewish state is threatening a fragile cease-fire and the Palestinian government of Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen).

Prime Minister Abbas warned Sunday that Israel should take the responsibility if the ceasefire collapses, because it has gone from killing to killing.

A full 73 percent of the Palestinian public supports the 90-day Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire declared last month, according to the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), a top polling agency on Palestinian public opinion.

The top US envoy for the Middle East, Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, is expected in Israel Tuesday, arriving from Cairo.

The Palestine National Authority (PNA) voiced impatience Sunday with the United States shuttle diplomacy that is not delivering on the ground.

“We have told the Americans that sending envoys now and then is insufficient,” PNA Minister of Cabinet Affairs Yasser Abed Rabbo said.

“The US Administration has to commit to the ‘roadmap’ and to send envoys who are seriously interested in monitoring the implementation,” of the roadmap plan, which was drafted and adopted by the European Union, the United States, the United Nations and Russia.

Ahead of Burns’ visit, the Israeli government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon froze the “roadmap,” announced its determination to go ahead with building the Apartheid Separation Wall on occupied Palestinian Territories in the West Bank and moved to divert attention away from the implementation of the peace plan by warming up its northern front militarily.

PM Sharon told his Cabinet on Sunday that the US-backed plan for Palestinian statehood will not move ahead until the Palestinians carry out their pledge to dismantle the anti 36-year Israeli occupation groups.

“No move forward on implementing the issue of a provisional Palestinian state before the Palestinians have fully and completely carried out their binding commitments," Sharon told his cabinet.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom reinforced Sharon’s message and said the peace process was on hold, claiming that the current security situation in Palestinian areas had become "virtually intolerable.”

Moreover, and in direct defiance of the US President George W. Bush’s recent statements, Israel announced its determination to continue building the Apartheid Separation Wall, labeled a “security fence” by Israeli officials, despite protests and threats of sanctions from its US ally.

Foreign Minister Shalom told Israeli public radio Sunday that Israel would take American objections into account "as much as possible," but was determined to find ways of protecting Israeli citizens, including the illegal Jewish “settlers” in occupied Palestinian territories.

"The security barrier will continue to be built despite our disagreement with the United States over its route," the chief Israeli diplomat said.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell has said Washington is considering whether to penalize Israel for construction of the Wall by withholding some of nine billion dollars in loan guarantees for the Jewish state.

But Shalom said: "We will find a solution allowing us to ensure the security of all our citizens, including the settlers, that will take into account as much as possible the American concerns,” adding, "Between friends there can sometimes be a difference of views."

The issue is expected to feature prominently in talks Tuesday between Israeli officials and William Burns.

Burns made clear on a visit to Moscow last week that Washington would continue to use its leverage to prompt concessions.

The Israeli defiance is threatening the fragile Hudna (ceasefire) declared by the PNA and Palestinian factions on June 29, which in turn puts at risk the survival of PNA premier Abbas’ government.

Uri Avnery, an Israeli author and activist who heads the Israeli peace movement, "Gush Shalom," said the PNA cabinet of PM Abbas might fall before the end of October, adding, “this conviction is gaining ground in leading Palestinian circles.”

“This forecast is based on the belief that Abu-Mazen will not get anything, neither from the Americans nor from Sharon. No release for most of the prisoners, no complete removal of the checkpoints inside the Palestinian territories, no stop to the building of the wall, no total withdrawal of the army from Palestinian towns, no lifting of the blockade on President Arafat, no freeze of the settlements, no dismantling of the settlement outposts that were put up in the last two and a half years (as stipulated by the roadmap),” Avnery wrote.

Palestinian legislator and former chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said it was Israel, rather than the Palestinians, which was failing to live up to its commitments under the "roadmap.”

"In accordance with the roadmap, what should be dismantled is the Israeli occupation and the Israeli settlements," Erekat told The Associated Press.

The peace plan is a three-stage program. In the first phase Israel is to commit to "immediately dismantle" about 100 unauthorized settlement outposts established in the West Bank since 2001.

It also is to take "all necessary steps to help normalize Palestinian life" and to withdraw "progressively" from the PNA areas reoccupied since September 2000.

About a dozen outposts not authorized by Israeli governments have so far been taken down, but a similar number have gone back up. Also, some roadblocks have been removed, but dozens remain.

Sharon’s government moved to draw attention away from implementing its obligations stipulated in the “roadmap” by warming up its northern front with Lebanon.

Last week Israel assassinated a leading Hizbullah figure in the heart of the group’s stronghold in the southern part of the Lebanese capital Beirut, thus inviting violent reaction from the Islamic resistance group.

The Israeli government escalated its accusations of Lebanese and Syrian backing to Hizbullah, in a clear investment in latest US warnings to Syria and Iran over Iraq.

However, just two months after launching the “roadmap” plan, US President Bush does not want to see it swept away by another round of Middle East unrest, analysts said.

“I don't think the United States is going to give a green light to Israel to go and do what needs to be done,” said analyst Avraham Rotem of the Israeli university of Bar Ilan.

Similarly the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged Israel to exercise “utmost restraint.”

Syria's state-run Tishrin newspaper charged in an editorial Sunday that Israel was trying “to expand the circle of its aggression and deliberately provoke and threaten more than one Arab country,” in hopes of slowing progress on the “roadmap” peace plan with the Palestinians, the AFP reported.

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