July 10, 2010 at 11:17
built on occupied territory are illegal. These include all the
settlements in the West Bank, and thousands of Jewish homes in East
Jerusalem, the Arab-dominated sector of the city annexed by Israel
after the 1967 Six Day War. The international community still regards
East Jerusalem as occupied territory. Despite firm commitments from
successive Israeli governments to dismantle illegal outposts built
after 2001 and to cease expansion of the settlements, Israel has
provided millions of dollars worth of incentives to encourage poorer
families to move into the West Bank. Some 300,000 settlers live in the
Exposed: The truth about Israel’s land grab in the
Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet, a
report reveals 42 per cent of territory is controlled by settlers
Stewart in Jerusalem and David Usborne
settlers, who claim a divine right to the whole of Israel, now control
more than 42 per cent of the occupied West Bank, representing a
powerful obstacle to the creation of a Palestinian state, a new report
jurisdiction of some 200 settlements, illegal under international law,
cover much more of the occupied Palestinian territory than previously
thought. And a large section of the land has been seized from private
Palestinian landowners in defiance even of an Israeli supreme court
ruling, the report said, a finding which sits uncomfortably with
Israeli claims that it builds only on state land.
official Israeli military maps and population statistics, the leading
Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, compiled the new findings, which
were released just as the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu,
arrived in Washington to try to heal a gaping rift with US President
Barack Obama over the issue of settlements.
settlement enterprise has been characterised, since its inception, by
an instrumental, cynical, and even criminal approach to international
law, local legislation, Israeli military orders, and Israeli law, which
has enabled the continuous pilfering of land from Palestinians in the
West Bank,” the report concluded.
demand for a freeze on illegal building has caused months of friction
between his administration and the Israeli government. But the US
president, facing mid-term elections in November, appeared eager to end
the dispute with Israel yesterday.
He said the
country was making “real progress” on improving conditions in the Gaza
Strip and was serious about achieving peace.
The two men
made a joint public appearance, carefully choreographed to convey
mutual ease and friendship.
Netanyahu last visited the White House, in March, US anger at his
refusal to end construction meant the Israeli premier was denied a
joint appearance with Mr Obama before the cameras. This time the
photo-op was granted and the two men afterwards shared a meal –
although not a state dinner but a working lunch.
the demise of the special US-Israel relationship aren’t premature,
there are just flat wrong,” Mr Netanyahu said, in response to a
reporter’s question about the perceived tensions. Playing to the same
script, Mr Obama said that the “bond between the United States and
Israel is unbreakable”.
revelations in the B’Tselem report suggest that despite Mr Netanyahu’s
stated desire for peace, his policy on settlements remains a dangerous
obstacle to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and
therefore to a durable peace.
They cast an
uncompromising spotlight on Israeli practices in the Palestinian
territories that have long drawn international criticism for
establishing “facts on the ground” hampering the creation of a viable
While most of
the Jewish settlement activity is concentrated in 1 per cent of the
West Bank, settler councils have in fact fenced off or earmarked
massive tracts of land, comprising some 42 per cent of the West Bank,
the outlawing by Israel of settlement expansion on private Palestinian
land, settlers have seized 21 per cent of land that Israel recognises
alleged that Israel had devised an extensive system of loopholes to
requisition Palestinian land.
At the same
time, Israel has built bypass roads, erected new checkpoints, and taken
control of scarce water resources to the benefit of the settlers. The
measures have effectively created Palestinian enclaves within the West
Bank, the report said.
international law, any Jewish settlements built on occupied territory
are illegal. These include all the settlements in the West Bank, and
thousands of Jewish homes in East Jerusalem, the Arab-dominated sector
of the city annexed by Israel after the 1967 Six Day War. The
international community still regards East Jerusalem as occupied
territory. Despite firm commitments from successive Israeli governments
to dismantle illegal outposts built after 2001 and to cease expansion
of the settlements, Israel has provided millions of dollars worth of
incentives to encourage poorer families to move into the West Bank.
Some 300,000 settlers live in the West Bank.
immediately attacked the report, claiming it was timed as a spoiler to
the Washington meeting.
no concrete breakthroughs were announced but Mr Obama said that he
believed the Israeli leader was ready to move towards direct talks with
the Palestinians. Indirect talks began earlier this year, mediated by
special US envoy George Mitchell.
showed signs of responding to the pressure. “Peace is the best option
for all of us and I think we have a unique opportunity to do it,” he
said. “If we work together with [Palestinian] President [Mahmoud] Abbas
then we can bring a great message of hope to our peoples, to the
region and to the world.”
Palestinians continue to refuse direct talks with Israel while new
settlement construction is allowed. Settlement activity continues in
East Jerusalem, which Palestinians aim to include in a new state.
ties already frayed, Mr Netanyahu postponed a visit to the White House
last month in the aftermath of Israel’s deadly raid on a Turkish-led
flotilla trying to deliver humanitarian goods to Gaza.
For Mr Obama,
the danger is clear that any long-lasting record of animosity towards
Israel could translate into lost votes at the mid-term elections.