In diametric opposition to the Mitchell Committee's call for a freeze on Jewish settlement activity, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will next Sunday submit to the cabinet a proposal to increase state support for Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by 1.5 billion NIS (US$360m), reported Haaretz newspaper.
Sharon decided to increase the funding last week, said the paper, adding that since then, several ministers and ministry directors-general have been asked to re-direct funds from various projects to the settlements.
“The bulk of this allocation is to become part of the state budget as a regular annual supplement to government money that has been provided to the settlements annually for over 20 years,” an official said.
The disclosure of Sharon's plan to enlarge state settlement allocations comes directly after the Mitchell Committee called for a freeze on settlement activity, which is internationally recognized as illegal.
The committee, formed to analyze the causes of the Al Aqsa Intifada, circulated its report to Israeli and Palestinian Authority (PA) officials on Friday.
According to the paper, Sharon's decision to push for the NIS 1.5 billion increase for the settlements appears founded on three factors: the ongoing security crisis, the realization of his campaign promises, and the need to allay fears of Jewish residents in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
A senior Israeli source said, however, "the (Mitchell) Committee deviated from its mandate when it recommended in favor of the settlement freeze. This issue belongs to final status discussions. There is no connection between the outbreak of violence and settlements."
Palestinian President Yasser Arafat on Saturday called for the convening of a follow-up summit at Sharm El Sheikh to discuss the Mitchell Committee report.
He spoke in Gaza after a discussion with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at Sharm El Sheikh about the report.
Arafat said that he had also discussed the report with Jordan's King Abdullah.
Responding to Arafat's call, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said that, "As far as we're concerned, there's no problem with [holding] some kind of conference, but Arafat must stop the shooting and violence. A conference cannot be held at a time when there's gunfire. Either there's shooting, or there are discussions," the paper quoted Peres as saying.
SHARON'S PLANNED SETTLEMENT SPLURGE SPARKS LABOR RUMBLINGS
Sharon's intention to submit the proposal drew criticism Sunday from senior Laborite and former foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, who questioned Labor's role in the national unity government as a result, said the paper.
Ben-Ami said the move was "mistaken" and that the money should be invested in development towns in the south or in communities on Israel's northern border.
"The move is mistaken not only diplomatically, but also socially," Ben Ami told Israel Radio. "I ask what Labor thinks of this." — Albawaba.com
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