CAIRO – While Palestinians were holding their breath in anticipation of the upcoming US-sponsored peace process, Israel was busy accelerating settlement building in the occupied West Bank, an Israeli peace group said on Wednesday, November 7.
"In 88 settlements construction is underway, ranging from a single house to large projects of tens and hundreds of housing units," the Peace Now group said in a new report.
It noted that a new 600-unit ultra-Orthodox Jewish housing community was being added to Givat Zeev settlement, northwest of al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem).
The report, covering the period from May to October, added that construction was also underway in 34 of 105 outpost settlements in the occupied West Bank.
"In 34 outposts there has been construction or trailers (caravans) were added.
"At least 35 new trailers have been delivered to the various outposts, and 14 new rooms have been added to existing trailers," said Peace Now.
"…10 permanent buildings are going up in outposts and 8 lots were flattened for construction or the addition of trailers, 6 roads and trails were built inside the outposts."
Under the internationally-backed roadmap peace plan, Israel must freeze all settlement activities and vacate settlements constructed after March 2001.
Israel occupied the West Bank, home to 2.4 million Palestinians, in the 1967 Middle East war.
All Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories are illegal under international law.
Palestinians fear that the expansion of Jewish settlements would eat up their lands and prevent a contiguous, viable Palestinian state.
A recent report by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said Israel has denied Palestinians in the West Bank the right to movement through a labyrinth of checkpoints and barriers set up to protect Jewish settlements.
Peace Now refuted Israeli claims that the expansion of settlements is a "natural growth" of their populations.
It noted that the number of settlers in the West Bank has grown by 5.8 percent, compared with 1.8 percent growth within Israel during the same period.
"This means that the growth of settlements is much more than the ‘natural growth’ and includes massive migration of settlers to the West Bank."
Yariv Oppenheimer, the group’s secretary general, warned that if this policy continues "we will soon have a settler state instead of a Palestinian state."
He said settlement construction has accelerated even as Israel and the Palestinians work to prepare for the Annapolis peace conference later this year.
"There is no connection between what is happening in political negotiations and what is happening on the ground," he told Army Radio.
"As far as settlers are concerned, there are no political negotiations, there is no Annapolis conference, there is no roadmap – there is only more and more construction work in settlements."
Jewish settlers, many of whom embrace the idea of a "Greater Israel" that includes the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, oppose any possible evacuation of the West Bank settlements.
Earlier this week, 2,000 ultra-Orthodox demonstrators, many of them West Bank settlers, rallied against the ongoing talks with the Palestinians to prepare for the Annapolis meeting.
Israeli rabbis have also threatened US President George W. Bush of divine punishment if he did not scrap the meeting, saying Hurricane Katrina and California fires were God’s punishment for America.
"Without reasonable territorial contiguity and without access and connection to East Jerusalem, there can be no viable Palestinian state and we will not be able to reach an agreement to end the conflict," concluded Peace Now.
(IslamOnline.net; Nov 7, 2007)