Israel Freezes Handover of West Bank Towns to Palestinians

May 7, 2005

On May 4, Israel froze an agreement to hand over responsibility for security in parts of the West Bank to Palestinians.

Israel agreed in principle to hand over responsibility for security in five West Bank towns at a summit between Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas in February.

However the transfer has so far taken place in only two West Bank towns -- Jericho and Tulkarem -- showing that the Israelis are reneging on their commitments.

Also, on May 2, Israeli leader Ariel Sharon's cabinet approved the establishment of the first Israeli university in the occupied West Bank. The cabinet voted 13-7 to upgrade the status of the College of Judea and Samaria in Ariel Jewish settlement to a university, reported the Israeli daily Haaretz.

Ariel, home to around 17,000 settlers, is situated some 20 kilometers (13 miles) to the east of the internationally-recognized border between Israel and the West Bank. Under existing agreements, Israel is obliged to freeze all construction work in settlements.

UN resolutions have declared illegal all Jewish settlements built on occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Sharon said making the Ariel college a university is a way of strengthening Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Likud ministers followed his lead in supporting the proposal.

Following talks with U.S. President George Bush last month, Sharon said large Israeli settlements in the West Bank "will remain in Israel's hands under any future final status agreement."

Dror Etkes, a leader of the Israeli Peace Now group, said the move was another sign of the government's determination to create facts on the ground and thus make it harder for Israel to leave the area. "This shows very clearly that the Sharon government is trying to do everything possible to annex the Ariel block," he told Agence France-Presse (AFP).