Agence France Presse (AFP)

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israel’s Housing Ministry has plans for West Bank construction that would nearly double the number of settlers there, the group Peace Now said Monday [Mar 2].

The presence of the so-called Israeli "settlers" in the Occupied Territories is illegal under international law.

The group gave the estimate in research issued on the day that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due to visit to Israel on her first trip to the region since taking office.

US President Barack Obama has vowed to vigorously pursue peace efforts in the region, and Israeli settlements on occupied land have long been one of the main obstacles to an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

"The Ministry of Construction and Housing is planning to construct at least 73,000 housing units in the West Bank," said the Peace Now study, based on analysis of data on Israeli government websites.

"At least 15,000 housing units have already been approved and plans for an additional 58,000 housing units are yet to be approved," it said.

Out of the units already approved, nearly 9,000 have been built, Peace Now said.

"If all the plans are realized, the number of settler in the territories will be doubled," the research document said, adding that the estimate is based upon an average of four people in each housing unit.

"The completion of these projects will make the plan of creating a Palestinian state next to Israel totally unrealistic," Peace Now head Yariv Oppenheimer told Army Radio.

Included among the government’s plans are some 17,000 housing units outside existing settlements in the Bethlehem area, the Peace Now study said.

"There are plans for huge construction to double the size of some settlements" including Beitar Illit, Ariel, Maale Adumim and Efrat, it said.

Some 19,000 units are planned to be built to the east of Israel’s illegal separation barrier in the Occupied West Bank, and the ministry plans include at least six wildcat outposts – settlements not authorized by the Israeli government, it said.

"The plans published are only a small part of the overall housing plans for the Occupied Territories," the group said. "There are other thousands of housing units in plans of the local authorities, private initiators and other public authorities, all of which we are in the process of collating." Under the internationally drafted "road map for peace," Israel is committed to dismantle all settlements built since March 2001.

But construction in Israeli settlements jumped 60 percent in 2008 in the wake of the re-launching of the Middle East peace process at a US conference at which the parties pledged to implement the road map. At least 1,257 new structures were built in settlements over the course of 2008, compared to 800 erected the previous year, according to figures compiled by Peace Now.

AFP with The Daily Star



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