The president also encouraged Israelis to end the “daily humiliation” of Palestinians.
“Israel should freeze settlement construction, dismantle unauthorized outposts, end the daily humiliation of the Palestinian people and not prejudice final negotiations with the placement of walls and fences,” President Bush said during his four-day visit to the U.K.
In 2002, Israel began construction of a 370-mile security barrier separating parts of Jerusalem from areas in the West Bank considered by the Israeli government at high risk for producing suicide bombers. The barrier includes a 200-mile-long concrete and barbed wire fence spotted with patrolled checkpoints, and has become a sore point in the “road map” to peace created by the United States, Russia, the European Union and United Nations.
In September, the Bush administration threatened to withhold aid to Israel if it continued construction of the barrier. Administration officials warned that part of a $9 billion aid package, slated to help with Israel’s ongoing recession, could be deducted as punishment.
So far the Israeli government has refused to halt construction, citing a security-patrolled fence in Gaza that they say has proven effective in limiting attacks.
Palestinians have argued that the fence is a modern-day Berlin Wall, that it divides Palestinian communities and that it puts disputed land in the hands of the Israelis.
In his speech, President Bush also encouraged Palestinians to deal peacefully with Israel and urged Arab states to end funding of known terrorist cells.
In response to the president’s comments on Wednesday, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told Israel’s Army Radio that the Israel would not stop work on the barrier.
“We have reached a clear and unequivocal decision to build this fence, to prevent the extremists from attacking us,” Shalom said. “We are doing everything we can to put up this fence that will prevent infiltrations.”
Israel and officials from the Palestinian Liberation Organization in recent weeks have reopened talks in an effort to rekindle the road map, which calls for an end to violence in the region and outlines an independent Palestinian state by 2005. The road map also requires a crackdown by Palestinian authorities on militant groups and the dismantling of new Jewish settlements in occupied territory.
The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday unanimously adopted the road map, which was drafted a year ago. Russia, which instigated the vote, reportedly wanted to breathe new life into the peace plan.
Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Sergei Lavrov, said while the Security Council’s resolution approving the road map would not radically change the peace process, it could “play a very important role” in promoting a current trend toward negotiations, Reuters reported.