Israel Conceals Settlement Report

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — The Israeli government is refusing to publish a report on settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian lands, fearing it could harm relations with main ally Washington.

"State security, as well as protection of foreign relations, are serving as a pretext for the state to try and hide things that are plainly visible," Yariv Oppenheimer, chief of the Israeli anti-settlements group Peace Now, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Monday, January 7.

Peace Now and the Movement for Freedom of Information in Israel had asked a Tel Aviv administrative court to order the publication of the Spiegel report.

The report, compiled in 2006 by Baruch Spiegel, then advisor to the defense minister, contains full details about settlements built across the Green Line, which separates Israel from the lands occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.

Israeli authorities fear the report publication could harm state security and relations with the United States, an argument Oppenheimer refuses.

Washington has criticized Israel over recent plans to expand settlements which emerged shortly before US President George W. Bush’s visit to the region later this week.

Since November, Israel has announced two expansions of settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank and  occupied East Jerusalem.

Last May, Israel announced plans to build three more Jewish settlements to encircle East Jerusalem, occupied in the 1967 war and later annexed to Israel in a move not recognized by the world community or UN resolutions.

There are no less than 164 Jewish settlements in the West Bank, eating up more than 40 percent of the occupied territory.

The issue of settlements — considered illegal by the international community — is one of the most divisive issues of the decades-old conflict.

Extensive Building

Military sources said that the report has been kept secret to avoid embarrassing Israel’s relations with Washington.

Under the internationally-backed roadmap, Israel must freeze all settlement activities and vacate settlements constructed after March 2001.

The Spiegel report is seen as the largest database ever compiled by state authorities on settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian lands.

It reveals extensive building in key settlements, often on privately owned Palestinian lands.

The report’s data came from the Civil Administrative and other Israeli government agencies as well as from photographic sorties carried out by civilian aircraft.

The report was compiled in response to incomplete figures provided by the government on settlement activities in the occupied lands.

"It became clear that often the state’s own information was incomplete in comparison with the data presented by the US administration or gathered by Peace Now’s monitoring staff," said Haaretz on Sunday.

It added that the official figures on settlement activities in some cases were deliberately kept hidden "to help the settlers expand their control over land without having to contend with judicial oversight of their activities."
( and Agencies)

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