Jewish Settlements Doubled: Report

Israel has nearly doubled the construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories since last year, placing more obstacles in the road of peace.

"Despite the Israeli government’s renewed commitment during the Annapolis Summit to freeze all settlement activity, the construction has continued and almost doubled," the Israeli Peace Now group said in a new report on Tuesday, August 26.

"No outpost had been evacuated, and instead, many outposts were expanded."

The report affirmed that in recent years, the construction has "accelerated" to "eliminate the Green Line", which marks the current borders between the occupied West Bank and Israel.

Citing government statistics, the watchdog said settlements building in the first half of 2008 was double that in the same period of last year.

"The housing ministry initiated 433 new housing units during the period of January to May 2008, compared to just 240 units during the period January to May 2007."

At least 2,600 new units are currently under construction in the West Bank.

Another 125 structures, including 30 permanent houses, have been built in outposts — wildcat settlements considered illegal under Israel law.

Tenders for West Bank construction had also increased fivefold, the report said.

There are more than 164 Jewish settlements in the West Bank, eating up more than 40 percent of the occupied territory.

The international community considers all Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land illegal.

The Israeli watchdog said Jewish settlements are also going wild in the occupied holy city of Al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem).

"In East Jerusalem, the construction increased dramatically."

In addition to ongoing building, tenders have been published for thousands of housing units, it added.

According to Peace Now, planning committees have promoted plans for thousands of new units.

"The number of tenders in East Jerusalem has increased by a factor of 38 by comparison to 2007 (from 46 housing units to 1,761 units)."

Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem in the six-day 1967 war before annexing the holy city and declaring it part of its eternal undivided capital, a claim not recognized by the UN or the world community.

The holy city is home to Al-Haram Al-Sharif, which includes Islam’s third holiest shrine Al-Aqsa Mosque, and represents the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Palestinians insist Al-Quds will be the capital of their future state.

The Israeli advocacy group warned that continuing settlement construction will eventually kill stone dead any peace prospects.

"It seems that the government of Israel repeats the mistakes of the past, by on the one hand negotiating an agreement with the Palestinians and in parallel constructing in the settlements," it said.

"This construction undermines the Palestinian partners and creates facts on the ground that might prevent the possibility of a peace agreement."

During the much-touted Annapolis peace conference, Israel promised not to build new settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Under and the roadmap peace plan, Tel Aviv also agreed to freeze settlement construction, which it never did.

The release of the Peace Now’s findings coincided with a visit by US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice to encourage peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

"I think it’s no secret, and I have said it to my Israeli counterparts, that I don’t think that settlement activity is helpful," Rice said after meetings with Israeli officials in Tel Aviv.

"In fact, what we need now are steps that enhance confidence between the parties and anything that undermines confidence between the parties ought to be avoided."


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