Israel expands settlements, criticizes Powell

Israel announced that it would build 1720 more houses in the West Bank and Gaza this year, creating more facts on the ground. This Washington Post piece quotes Raanan Gissin, Israeli PM Ariel Sharon's spokesman, as saying this was approved by Colin Powell:

Israel has also agreed to freeze the number, but not the size, of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Gissin said. He said Israel has an "understanding" with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell that natural growth is permitted. "People have the right to live and multiply and give birth, and we are not going to throw them out," he said.

U.S. officials have denied that Powell made any agreement permitting the natural growth of settlements.


Meanwhile, Israeli officials have criticized Powell for wanting to meet the architects of the recently signed Geneva "alternative" peace accords.

"I think he is making a mistake," Ehud Olmert, Israel's vice premier, said of Mr. Powell in an interview on Israel radio. "I think he is not helping the process. I think this is a wrong step by a representative of the American administration."


Olmert is a former hard-right mayor of Jerusalem who was a key architect of the policy containing growth of the city's Arab population and accelerating the encroachment of traditionally Arab neighborhoods by Jews.