The United States has rescinded its demand for Israel to implement the joined, U.S. – Israeli marking of the boundaries of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Israeli and American officials said on Monday.

Israel claims that marking the boundaries of the settlements is an uncomfortable concession, while the U.S. claims it would legitimize the existing settlements.

The U.S. is still committed to the letters of guarantees it gave to Israel following the summit the joined the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the U.S. President George W. Bush, in April 2004.

{mosimage}American officials will make do with warning Israel to refrain from expanding West Bank settlements.  Apparently, the U.S. vision of expansion is limited to building new settlements.  Therefore, the U.S. does not object new construction in the large settlement blocs or within built up areas.

Thousands of construction licenses have been given by the Israeli government in the recent years since the boundary-marking plan began in 2001.

The plan began with the Mitchell Committee, which called for a freeze on settlement construction. Two years later, Israel pledged to limit construction to the ‘present construction line,’ in order to meet the U.S. demand not to take over land to be part of the future Palestinian state.

Washington, however, asked for clarification of the ‘present construction line’ of each settlement.  Israel assigned a senior military officer to collect the requested clarifications. The U.S. assigned a team of map experts to examine the situation and mark the boundaries.

The U.S. objected, as Israel wanted the boundary marking to begin with the small isolated settlements and leave the marking of large settlements until the end of the process, in keeping with Sharon’s position to that they large blocs would eventually be annexed to Israel.

As a result, the U.S. cancelled the visit of the mapping team, and talks between Israeli and U.S. officials on this issue stopped, especially after realizing that Sharon is going ahead with his disengagement plan under which Israel evacuated 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and four minor ones in the northern West Bank.

Local observers view the American position as a way to solve the conflict the Washington is in.  On one hand, the U.S. backs and approves the Road Map, which calls for a viable independent Palestinian State, and on the other hand, it approves those large settlement blocs to be annexed to Israel in any final settlement with the Palestinians.

Therefore, the U.S. has to drop its approval of either the annexation, or the viable Palestinian state.

The U.S. is making do with a middle way.  It demands the dismantling of the unauthorized outposts, and, at the same time, has backed down from its demand to mark settlement boundaries.  The U.S. administration also may show understanding of Sharon’s political position, and expect at most only a symbolic dismantling of a few outposts before elections.