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Israel-U.S. tension rising over symbolic accord
( 2003-12-05 01:43) (Agencies)

An adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon urged Washington on Thursday not to meddle in Israeli politics in the latest show of displeasure over planned U.S. talks with authors of a symbolic Middle East peace pact.

Palestinian teenagers throw stones at an Israeli army tank at Balata refugee camp near the West Bank city of Nablus December 3, 2003. [Reuters]
The rare public row between Israel and its chief ally continued to smolder as Palestinian factions opened negotiations in Cairo aimed at reaching an agreement on a truce considered crucial to reviving U.S.-backed peace moves.

Secretary of State Colin Powell was due to meet in Washington on Friday with Israeli and Palestinian architects of the Geneva Accord, an unofficial plan Sharon has rejected as capitulation to a Palestinian uprising.

The scheduled talks have drawn unusually sharp Israeli criticism of the United States, which has signaled impatience with Sharon's foot-dragging on a stalled international "road map" to end three years of violence.

The Geneva deal, drafted by Israeli leftist opposition figures and Palestinian politicians, has been denounced by Sharon's right-wing government for agreeing that Israel share sovereignty over Jerusalem and hand over occupied land to Palestinians for a state.

"It is clear only the democratically elected government of Israel has the authority to dispatch negotiators to sit with Palestinians and reach agreements," Sharon adviser Dore Gold told Reuters when asked about the upcoming talks in Washington.

"It is our hope that friendly countries around the world respect the democratic choices of the people of Israel and don't get drawn into our domestic politics," he added.

The architects of the Geneva deal, former Israeli justice minister Yossi Beilin and former Palestinian cabinet minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, were lobbying for U.S. support for the plan, which has emerged during a relative lull in violence.

Powell said on Wednesday he had a duty to explore all peace ideas, whatever the source. Officials have also raised the possibility of a meeting with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, a leading advocate of Israel.


At the same time, Israel set itself up for further pressure from Washington by announcing plans to push ahead with another Jewish settlement expansion project on occupied land in defiance of the road map's requirements to freeze such activities.

Israel invited bids for 98-year leases of 13 plots of land in the sprawling Ariel settlement in the West Bank. The Bush administration has already reduced Israel's US$9 billion in loan guarantees in protest at continued settlement building and construction of a vast barrier in the West Bank.

"We urge the Israeli government at the time we are about to engage in serious dialogue in Cairo and are preparing for a meeting of the two prime ministers to stop unilateral acts of settlement expansion," Palestinian minister Saeb Erekat said.

Factions attending Egyptian-brokered talks -- including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the main groups behind a campaign of suicide bombings -- have said they would halt attacks in Israel if its army stopped military operations in Palestinian areas.

While viewing the truce talks with skepticism, Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Zeev Boim said Israel was willing to give new Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie a chance to end violence.

Palestinians declared a one-sided truce in June. It collapsed in August amid violence.

Qurie, who is preparing for his first summit with Sharon but wants the groundwork laid before scheduling it, said he would join the Cairo talks during the weekend. "I hope it will be successful," he told Reuters in the West Bank town of Abu Dis.

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