Rice criticizes Israel over settlements
( dpa ) - Israeli plans to build new settlements in occupied portions of the West Bank are "not helpful" and violate the roadmap peace plan, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday.
"The United States considers the expansion of settlement activity to be not consistent with Israeli obligations under the roadmap, and we've made that very clear," Rice told a congressional budget committee. "And I've also said that it's certainly not helpful to the peace process."
The Palestinians have said they will not resume negotiations until Israel declares an end to settlement activity after the Israeli government this week announced plans to expand housing units in disputed East Jerusalem by as much as 550 units.
Rice said the State Department is taking steps to ensure that any aid to Israel will not be used in support of settlement activity. The roadmap peace plans was drawn up by the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia and unveiled in 2003.
Rice on Monday met in Washington with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni but it was not clear whether she raised the issue. The United States has urged the Israelis and Palestinians to resume negotiations launched after President George W Bush hosted a peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland.
The first talks in seven years have stalled because of the flare up of violence in recent weeks between the Israeli military and Palestinian Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.
The Palestinians envision East Jerusalem as the future capital of a Palestinian state, and fiercely oppose any new settlements.
Meanwhile Vice President Dick Cheney will travel to the Middle East this month in an effort to rescue the peace process. Bush declared a goal of brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement before he leaves office in January that would include the creation of a Palestinian state.
Cheney's trip to Oman, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the West Bank and Turkey begins on March 16. He plans on meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.