Israel revives plans to build two highways in West Bank Sharon also OKs 2 bridges in occupied Golan Heights


JERUSALEM -- Signaling that it will resist Arab demands to trade land for peace, Israel's new conservative government has revived plans to build two highways through the West Bank and two new bridges to the Golan Heights.

In an effort to tighten Israel's links to the disputed territories, Ariel Sharon, the hawkish minister of national infrastructures, has ordered that the projects go ahead. They had been shelved under the previous Labor Party administration in favor of projects inside Israel.

The move was an early indication of how the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to strengthen its hold over areas that, he has contended, were being surrendered to the Arabs by his predecessor, Shimon Peres.

In a meeting yesterday with leaders of the 140,000 Jewish settlers living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Netanyahu said he favored developing Jewish settlements in those territories as much as he favored developing Jewish communities inside Israel.

Pinhas Wallerstein, the head of the settlers' umbrella group, said he understood that Netanyahu would soon lift curbs imposed by the Labor government on construction in settlements.

Netanyahu, leader of the Likud bloc, has rejected the exchange of land for peace as a basis for Arab-Israeli negotiations, asserting that talks should be held "without preconditions."

The policy guidelines of his government insist on Israeli sovereignty over the Golan in any settlement with Syria, and they rule out Palestinian independence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Sharon, a hard-liner who is a former general and former defense minister, has been an outspoken advocate of continued Israeli control and settlement of the West Bank and the Golan. He has denounced the self-rule accords Israel signed with the Palestinians, part of which have already gone into effect.

Sharon has avoided public declarations since taking office, moving quietly from words to deeds. He has instructed the Department of Public Works, an agency put under the control of his ministry, to build two major roads through the West Bank at a total cost of about $55 million, a department spokesman said.

The projects mark a departure from policies of the Labor government, which had concentrated on improving traffic-choked highways inside Israel, cutting budgets spent by the previous Likud administration on roads for settlers in the West Bank.

Avraham Shohat, who was finance minister in the Labor government, said the renewed spending on West Bank highways would come at the expense of needed roadwork inside Israel.

"This is madness repeating itself," he said.

Hassan Asfour, a senior Palestinian peace negotiator, charged that the planned roads were a violation of the Palestinian-Israeli accords.

Pub Date: 7/30/96

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