Israel is preparing to move a security fence, designed to separate Israelis and Palestinians, further into the West Bank. About 40,000 more settlers and another 3,000 Palestinians would find themselves on the Israeli side of the barrier.
Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian negotiator, denounced the initiative yesterday as "flagrant defiance" of President George Bush and Tony Blair, who have promised to present their "road map" to peace as soon as a new Palestinian Government is sworn in.
"Israel is telling the Americans and British to forget it," Dr Erekat said. "They are saying they have their own road map, based on dictation, not negotiation. They are creating facts on the ground, which will take 40 per cent of the West Bank."
The proposed realignment, confirmed by Israeli officials yesterday, involves two curves that would bring the urban settlements of Immanuel and Ariel within the fence.
Palestinian gunmen and suicide bombers have attacked both of them since the intifada broke out two and a half years ago. They lie west of the main road between the Palestinian towns of Nablus and Ramallah.
Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister, is also planning a second fence dividing most of the West Bank from the Jewish settlements along the Jordan Valley to the east.
When he presented this to his cabinet last week, some ministers commented to reporters that it would leave the Palestinians precious little for their state.
Ra'anan Gissin, Mr Sharon's spokesman, insisted, however, that the fence was not a political border. It was, he said, a barrier meant to protect Israeli citizens from terror attacks. He suggested that it could be moved if a peace agreement were reached.
The liberal daily paper Ha'aretz recalled that Israel moved its security fence to the international border when it withdrew from southern Lebanon three years ago. It also evacuated 16 settlements from occupied Sinai after it signed a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979.
The Palestinians, who have seen successive Israeli governments expanding and consolidating settlements for three decades, are not convinced. "This fence is going to be twice as high as the Berlin Wall," Dr Erekat said. "You don't build a wall like that in order to move it voluntarily in six months or two years."
Israel is building the northern stretch of the fence, from Mehola, in the Beit She'an valley, to Elkana, east of Tel Aviv. It is due to be completed by the end of 2003 at a cost of 2bn shekels (£270m). The southern section, reaching as far as Arad in the Negev desert, will cost a further 4.5bn shekels.
Originally, Israel planned to leave as many Palestinians as possible east of the fence, but the settlers lobbied for it to be moved so that they would enjoy its protection. Like the Palestinians, they feared that it would determine the final border.
© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd