U.S. Silent on Israel West Bank Plans

The United States withheld judgment Tuesday on whether Israel's (search) plans to build 1,000 new homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank (search) violate the U.S-led Middle East peace plan.

U.S. officials are studying the details of bids, or tenders, issued by the Israeli government for construction of the homes, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said. "Our concern is to determine whether these tenders are consistent with Israel's commitments" to freeze settlements as part of the peace plan known as the road map, Ereli said.

In the past State Department officials have repeatedly pressed the Israelis to live up to statements in the road map.

However, Ereli declined to say whether the housing plans run afoul of the road map provision that says Israel "freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements)."

In Jerusalem, Israeli officials said they have Washington's tacit approval for constructing the homes because they would be built inside existing settlements and are among the enclaves Israel wants to keep in a peace agreement.

Ereli said, "We've got to look at where these tenders are, what previous discussions were, what these tenders are for and what specific commitments were made."

A senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the homes would violate the road map. But the official said it is unclear whether Israel would proceed with construction.

The Israeli announcement came a day before a crucial meeting of the governing body of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's (search) Likud party. It will vote on whether Sharon can continue efforts to get the Labor party to join his shaky coalition. Labor has demanded that the project be canceled.

The U.S. official said the Americans had no advance knowledge of Israel's construction plans and, as far as he knew, the issue did not come up when some members of the National Security Council (search) visited Israel last month.

Ereli said a technical team from the State Department would be visiting Israel in the next few weeks to discuss settlement issues but he did not have a date.

"We continue to have discussions with the Israelis about our concerns in this area," he said. "And we've been very clear with the Israelis about what our views and what our understandings are."