JERUSALEM — Palestinian leaders appealed to Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak on Friday to rescind a decision by Israel's outgoing government that would expand the boundaries of a West Bank Jewish settlement and connect it to Jerusalem.
The Palestinians said the last-minute action by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a bid to cement Israel's hold on occupied lands just east of Jerusalem and choke off the traditionally Arab eastern sector of the city from Palestinian villages in the West Bank.
"This is a very dangerous move that puts more obstacles in the way of peace," said Ziad abu Zayyad, who represents Jerusalem in the Palestinian Legislative Council. "We are asking Mr. Barak to cancel this decision and show us that he plans to revive the peace process."
A spokeswoman for Barak said the prime minister-elect would not comment on policy issues before he forms his government and is sworn in, something expected within the next few weeks.
Outgoing Defense Minister Moshe Arens gave final approval May 12, five days before the election, for enlarging Maale Adumim by 3,000 acres, a spokesman said.
Maale Adumim is the West Bank's largest Jewish settlement, with a population of about 20,000. It lies about two miles east of Jerusalem. But if the expansion is not revoked, Maale Adumim will border the city.
Palestinians say the decision is part of an Israeli plan to surround East Jerusalem with Jewish neighborhoods and keep it from becoming the capital of an independent Palestinian state.
Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians' top negotiator with Israel, said he met Friday with John Herbst, the U.S. consul general in Jerusalem, and asked that the United States pressure Israel to rescind the decision. He also spoke by telephone with U.S. Middle East peace envoy Dennis B. Ross.
"It looks like the Netanyahu government wants to make sure that any attempt to revive the peace process under Mr. Barak will be destroyed before it begins," Erekat said.
In Washington, the State Department called the decision "a provocative act" that could upset the peace process.
But Benny Kashriel, mayor of Maale Adumim, said the decision to expand his booming community is long overdue.
"This extension was approved first in 1994" by the Labor government of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, he said. "It has taken this long to get it this far, and we hope that Barak will understand that he should not stop it now."
Kashriel said plans for the area call for a hotel, shops and attractions intended to bring families to Maale Adumim and provide work for Palestinians and Israelis.
But Yossi Beilin, an architect of the 1993 Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians and a leading dove in Barak's Labor Party, called the timing of the decision a provocation. He said that Israel and the Palestinians may one day come to an agreement on the sensitive issue but that it should be done through negotiations, not unilateral steps.
And Yossi Sarid, the leader of the left-wing Meretz Party, which is likely to join Barak's coalition, told Israel Radio that he believes the expansion plan will be revoked.
Barak has been unclear on the fate of Jewish settlements. He has said he believes that most of the 140 or so Jewish communities in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights should remain under Israeli sovereignty in a final peace arrangement with the Palestinians, but he hints that some isolated communities may have to be dismantled.
He has assured potential coalition partners that he does not intend to reduce funding to the communities for now.