Sharon got an additional boost from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who reiterated American support for Israel's plan to hold on to big settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria in any final peace deal with the Palestinians. "While we will not prejudice the outcome of final status negotiations, the changes on the ground, the existing major Israeli population centers, will have to be taken into account in any final status negotiations," Rice told Israel Radio. The aim of the statement is to strengthen Sharon, who has sought to sell the Gaza plan to the Israeli public by saying that he’s trading Gaza for the Biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria. The Palestinians protested, saying the US should not interfere in final status issues that must be decided through negotiations.
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