By Rory McCarthy
To view original article, published by The Guardian on the 26th August, click here
Israel has nearly doubled the number of homes under construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank this year, according to a report published today.
The report, by Peace Now, an Israeli organisation, said the housing ministry had begun work on 433 new settlement housing units between January and May this year compared with 240 in the same period last year, despite continuing negotiations with the Palestinians for a peace agreement.
The organisation said its findings were based on figures from Israel’s central bureau of statistics.
It said more than 1,000 new buildings, representing 2,600 housing units, were under construction in settlements. Of these, 55% are on the eastern side of the concrete and steel barrier Israel has built in and along the West Bank.
The US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, who arrived in Israel yesterday for another round of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, again criticised the settlement activity.
Under the US road map plan – the framework for the current peace talks – Israel is to freeze all construction in the settlements. All settlements on occupied land are illegal under international law.
“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. “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.”
Israeli and Palestinian leaders have so far failed to reach any agreement despite regular talks that began with the relaunch of the peace process in Annapolis, in the US, last November.
Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, said the process would “not be affected” by settlement activity. “The role of the leaders is to try to find a way to live in peace in the future and not to let any kind of noises that relate to the situation on the ground these days to enter the negotiation room,” she said.
“But at the end of the day the Israeli government’s policy is not to expand settlements, not to build new settlements and not to confiscate Palestinian land.”
Livni said settlement activity had “reduced in the most dramatic way”, particularly east of the barrier. But the figures from Peace Now appeard to challenge that argument.
The organisation said the number of tenders issued for construction in the settlements had increased dramatically, standing at 417 housing units this year compared with 65 last year.
The number of tenders in East Jerusalem was up to 1,761 housing units from 46 last year.
The group said there appeared to be a trend to use construction to form a “territorial connection” between the more distant West Bank settlements and the larger settlement blocks. “Despite the Israeli government’s renewed commitment during the Annapolis summit to freeze all settlement activity, the construction has continued and almost doubled in all of the settlements and outposts on both sides of the separation barrier,” the report said.
“This construction undermines the Palestinian partners, creating facts on the ground that might prevent the possibility of a peace agreement.”