THE AGE: “Israel accused of crowding out Palestinians” by Ruth Pollard 16Jan12 January 16, 2012

by Ruth Pollard  -  The Age  -  16 January 2012

A TWENTY per cent rise in settlement construction across the West Bank and East Jerusalem over the past year has taken land critical to the creation of a Palestinian state and placed a two-state solution further away, two new reports have found.

Construction started on at least 1850 housing units, with 3500 units already under construction, the settlement watch group Peace Now reported.

Eleven new settlements – home to 2300 settlers and 680 structures – were recognised by Israel in 2011 when it legalised the outposts, which are created when a settlement expands.

A further 1577 units were flagged as part of the Ministry of Housing’s official list of coming tenders, the report found.

”The Netanyahu government is promoting several plans precisely in disputed areas, which could prevent the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel,” it said.

The Israeli government said it had exercised ”great restraint” with settlements and described Peace Now’s figures as exaggerated.

But a leaked European Union report on Area C in the West Bank, where 62 per cent of the territory is under Israeli control, found ”the window for a two-state solution is rapidly closing”.

”The Palestinian presence in Area C has been continuously undermined through different administrative measures, planning regulations and other means adopted by Israel as occupying power,” says the report, which is yet to be released.

Rapid growth in settlements – considered illegal under international law – means settlers (310,000) now significantly outnumber Palestinian residents (150,000) in Area C.

Along with the settlement expansion, Israel’s prohibitive planning regime – it prevents Palestinians from building new houses or expanding their homes, restricts access to water, electricity, sewage and agricultural land as well as the prevention of free movement throughout the territory via checkpoints and the military’s separation wall – was eroding Palestinians’ ability to continue living in those areas, it found.

Israel would not comment on the EU report, with a spokesman from the foreign ministry saying ”the report has not been presented to us … we didn’t know it was being written and to my understanding we were never consulted in its preparation”.

A third round of ”exploratory” talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials began in Jordan on Saturday.

Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi said she did not expect a breakthrough by the January 26 deadline set by the Middle East Quartet.

The West Bank village of Asira, just south of Nablus, knows too well the challenges of living under Israel’s military occupation and in the shadow of a settlement. Locals have shown The Age videos of what they say are frequent attacks by residents of the neighbouring settlement of Yizhar.

■ UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for an end to Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, saying the illegal settlements work against a two-state solution.

Speaking at a conference in Beirut on democracy in the Arab world, Mr Ban said a two-state solution was long overdue.

With AAP

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