TEL AVIV, June 8, 2009 (WAFA)- “Since Israel accepted the Road Map, which mandated a freeze of all settlement activity, the settler population in the West Bank has swelled from 211,400 to over 289,600 - an increase of 37% in six years,” B’tselem reported.
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In a report issued, Wednesday, B’tselemsa said the Israeli government has used the idea of 'natural growth' as a fig leaf to cover large-scale expansion of Jewish colonies.
B’tselem added that the population of Israel increased at a rate of 1.8%. Among the Jewish population the growth rate is 1.6%. In that same year, the colonies increased by 5.6%. Of that figure, a full 40% is directly attributable to immigration, from Israel and abroad.
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B’tselem continued that, “The Netanyahu government claims that barring 'natural growth' will tear families apart. But, B’tselem argued, people do not have an inalienable right to live in the neighborhood of their choosing. Israel is a small country and the colonies are a short drive or bus ride from many towns and cities within the Green Line. This is an inconvenience people in all developed countries must deal with.
The Israeli government has recently argued that it cannot completely freeze colonies because, as a matter of law, the government could not reverse itself after tenders had been issued, apartments bought and construction begun.
In fact, in two cases, brought to the High Court of Justice in 1992 by contractors and settler groups against the Yitzhak Rabin government, the Court ruled that the government could legally stop construction even after it had begun and that any losses incurred due to the government's policy could be addressed in civil court.
B’tselem affirmed that at least 58% Ofra colony was built on privately owned Palestinian land and that the Israeli government has all the legal and administrative tools necessary to halt construction in the settlements.
“The built-up areas of the settlements constitute 1.7% of the land in the West Bank. However their municipal boundaries are four times as large (6.8%) and much of this is planned for expansion,” B’tselem emphasized.
“The potential, therefore, for massive expansion under the guise of 'natural growth' is great,” B’tselem said, “Israel's Interior Minister Eli Yishai has threatened to use every resource at his disposal to expand existing settlements as much as possible.”
Israel's highest court has ruled that the government has the legal tools to halt construction in colonies. Israel is obliged to do so, under international law and by its agreements under the Road Map, B’tselem affirmed, adding that colonies result in violation of Palestinians' human rights in a range of areas. Any increase in colonies will only exacerbate this situation.
Settlements: The Facts
- There are currently 121 Israeli settlements and approximately 102 Israeli outposts built illegally on Pales-tinian land occupied by Israel in 1967. All of these settlements and outposts are illegal under international law and have been condemned by numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions. Israeli outposts are considered illegal under Israeli law.
- These settlements and outposts are inhabited by a population of some 462,000 Israeli settlers. 191,000 Israelis are living in settlements around Jerusalem and a further 271,400 are further spread throughout the West Bank. The settler population has grown consistently between 4-6% per year over the last two decades, a much higher rate of growth than Israeli society as a whole (1.5%).
- Approximately 385,000 settlers in 80 settlements will be located between the Separation Wall and the Green Line if Israel holds to projected plans.
- In 2008, amidst the ‘settlement freeze’ agreed upon in the Annapolis framework, tenders for new settle-ment building increased by 550% from 2007. Actual settlement construction has increased by 30% since the launching of the new round of peace talks. Settlement building around Jerusalem has increased by a factor of 38.
- A total of 9,000 further housing units have been approved in East Jerusalem, and approximately 2,600 new housing units are being built east of the Separation Wall, comprising 55% of all settlement construc-tion activity.
- Settlements are built on less than 3 percent of the area of the West Bank. However, due to the extensive network of settler roads and restrictions on Palestinians accessing their own land, Israeli settlements domi-nate more than 40 percent of the West Bank.
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