US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, arrived in Tel Aviv on Saturday and said that Israel is not doing enough as it is ongoing with settlements construction in the West Bank. Rice described the issue of settlements as “a problem” and called on Israel to ease restrictions on the Palestinian people.

This visit is the sixth trip Rice conducts since the beginning of this year in an attempt to boost the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.

 Palestinian officials stated that the ongoing Israeli construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank and the corruption probe against Olmert which could force him out of office have negative impacts on the peace process and could hinder achieving a peace deal this year.

If the corruption charges against Olmert force him to out of office, Israel will have to move to new elections which will limit the chances of achieving a peace deal this year.

 Israel recently approved the construction of hundreds of settler homes in the occupied West Bank, especially in the Jerusalem area. The recent approval was the construction of homes for ultra-Orthodox settlers in Ramat Shlomo area in Jerusalem. The area in question is part of the occupied Palestinian territories captured by Israel in 1967. It was illegally annexed by Israel to the Jerusalem boundaries despite international disapproval.

 Palestinian chief negotiator, Dr. Saeb Erekat, stated that the new settlement construction plans are considered a “systematic policy which is set to void the peace process”.

Erekat also urged Rice to consider this issue as a top priority.

 Commenting on the new Israeli plans, Rice told reporters that she will discuss this issue with Israeli officials.

It is worth mentioning that Rice plans to separately meet Olmert and the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. She is also expected to hold talks with chief Palestinian and Israeli negotiators, especially Tzipi Livni, the Israeli Foreign Minister, and former Palestinian Prime Minister, Ahmad Qorea’.

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