Wrong Turn on 'Road Map'

This week, bulldozers broke ground for 533 new dwellings for Jewish settlers in the West Bank, where most settlers live. The construction, quietly sanctioned by Washington, greatly undermines the US role as an honest broker in the Middle East peace process.

Palestinians and the Arab League are rightly outraged with the US position on these plans for more building within existing settlement borders.

The Israelis justify the construction as a means to accommodate "natural growth" of the settlement population. But the planned 2,167 new units violate the Bush-brokered "road map" to an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. The road map bans all new building, including for "natural growth."

In failing to condemn the Israeli violation, the Bush administration also reinforces the case made by Arab terrorists that the US is not truly interested in a Palestinian state. Every dollar spent on US media outreach to the Muslim world seems wasted when headlines proclaiming US support for new Israeli settlements ricochet around the Middle East.

The argument for the administration's quiet condoning of the new settlements is that it will help shore up Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's position within his own Likud party, and thus improve his chances of winning approval for a unilateral withdrawal of Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip. His party recently rejected a unilateral withdrawal.

But the White House errs in sacrificing its long-term goals in the Middle East peace process and the war on terrorism, for the short-term hope of influencing internal Israeli politics. The Israeli public favors the Gaza withdrawal; so does the opposition Labor party. It is Mr. Sharon's job to bring these considerable pressures to bear - not President Bush's.

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