Jewish settler outposts expanding by stealth on eve of US-sponsored roadmap talks

Also see “US masks Mideast Apartheid as Peace Initiative”

Aljazeera, November 7, 2007

Jewish settler outposts ‘expanding’

Jewish settlers continue to expand West Bank outposts [GALLO/GETTY]Jewish settlers are expanding outposts in the occupied West Bank by stealthily assembling mobile homes, a report by an Israeli peace group has said.

Peace Now said on Wednesday that settlers, faced with a ban on moving caravans to outposts in the West Bank, have been smuggling in self-assembly kits and erecting mobile homes on-site.

In addition, the report said, government-approved building work was continuing in 88 settlements in defiance of the US-backed “roadmap” peace plan of 2002.

“If you want to have a two-state solution then you can’t continue to expand settlements,” said Yariv Oppenheimer, director of Peace Now.

“Every day it gets more difficult to talk about borders.”

The group said it found clandestine mobile home assembly in several long-standing settlements.

Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land are illegal under international law.

Settler momentum

The road map also requires Israel to dismantle all unauthorised outposts built since March 2001.

The Yesha settler movement, admitted it was expanding settlements and vowed to keep building on West Bank land, saying it was given to Jews by God.

“The Peace Now report proves that settlement has momentum and will not let up for a moment,” said Yishay Hollender, a spokesman for the group.

Palestinians condemned the Israeli government in the wake of the report’s findings.

Palestinian view

“All that Israel is doing on the ground is of course an obstacle to all that we are trying to achieve,” said Rafiq Husseini, an aide to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president.

According to government statistics in Peace Now’s report, the number of West Bank settlers increased by 5.8 per cent to 267,500 in the first half of 2007, more than three times population growth in Israel.

Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, acknowledged this week that both sides have not fully implemented the road map, but said Israel was committed to doing so.

About 2.4 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since the 1967 war.

Palestinians fear they would not be able to create a contiguous and viable state in the West Bank and Gaza if Israeli settlements remain.

Source: Agencies

More on the expansion of Israeli settlements

AFP, November 7, 2007

Israeli settlements expand ahead of Mideast meeting

JERUSALEM (AFP) — The construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank has accelerated even as Israel and the Palestinians work to relaunch the Middle East peace process, a settler watchdog said on Wednesday.

The construction of settlements “puts the chances of success at the Annapolis meeting in grave danger,” Yariv Oppenheimer, secretary general of the Israeli Peace Now group told AFP.

“If it continues like this we will soon have a settler state instead of a Palestinian state” in the West Bank, he said.

In a report covering the period from may to October, Peace Now said construction is underway in 88 settlements, ranging from single buildings to the development of hundreds of housing units.

Citing government statistics published in June, the group said the number of settlers in the West Bank has reached 267,500, an annual growth of 5.8 percent, versus 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,” the report said.

But Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, called the numbers “problematic” and insisted that the growth reflects the higher birth rates of settlers, who tend to be ultra-Orthodox Jews.

“This is a new report and we will have to study the report,” Regev told AFP, adding that most of the growth in construction is taking place within well-established settlements.

“Peace Now itself says the bulk of the construction is going on inside the major settlement blocks,” Regev said. “Israel is not building new settlements. We have not been building new settlements in the West Bank for years.”

Israel and the Palestinians have been locked in discussions over the past several weeks aimed at preparing a joint document ahead of a US-sponsored international peace meeting expected in Annapolis, Maryland later this year.

Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has vowed to revive the peace process according to the so-called roadmap, a blueprint for peace with the Palestinians drafted in 2003.

The document, which has made no progress in the past four years, calls on Israel to freeze settlement activity and to withdraw all settlements constructed after March 2001.

In the past Israel has insisted it will limit settlements to “natural growth” but the report says a new 600-unit ultra-Orthodox Jewish housing community was being added to Givat Zeev settlement, northwest of Jerusalem.

The group also found new construction in 34 of 105 “outpost” settlements, charging that settlers have started constructing trailer home “caravans” on site to avoid bans on transporting them without permits.

The report also refers to the construction of the controversial E-1 road, which Israel says is intended to facilitate Palestinian movement but which Palestinians charge is part of a larger project to split the West Bank in half.

Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967 but never annexed the territory, which Palestinians have demanded for a future state. All West Bank settlements are illegal under international law.

The settlers, many of whom embrace the idea of a “Greater Israel” that includes the West Bank and Gaza, insist that their removal would amount to a forced expulsion.

“If Israel presented a plan whereby in order to reach a peace deal they would expel all the Arabs from Israel, then what would the headlines be?” asked David Wilder, a spokesman for hardline settlers in Hebron.

On Sunday some 2,000 ultra-Orthodox demonstrators, many of them West Bank settlers, rallied in central Jerusalem against the ongoing talks with the Palestinians, in the first such action since the process was launched.

Right-wing activists have also tacked up posters of Israeli President Shimon Peres in the black-and-white keffiyeh Arab headdress favoured by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Similar posters depicting former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin were run off in a campaign of right-wing incitement against a peace deal that preceded his assassination at the hands of a Jewish extremist in 1995.

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