JERUSALEM -- The pattern of Jewish settlements in the West Bank was
designed to make a Palestinian state impossible, an Israeli human
rights group charged in a report issued Monday.
The group, B'Tselem, said the Jewish state had "stolen'' tens
of thousands of acres of Palestinian land to establish the settlements
-- considered illegal under international law -- for hundreds of
thousands of Israelis.
"It's the intentional plan of the development and location of
the settlements... precisely to prevent any sort of viable Palestinian
state,'' said Jessica Montell, the group's director.
B'Tselem released what it described as the most detailed maps yet
showing how Arab towns and villages were hemmed in by Jewish
settlements and a network of roads leading to them. The carved-up
territories present a major roadblock in the search for a lasting
Israeli-Palestinian peace, the group said.
B'Tselem called on the Israeli government to vacate all settlements
and compensate settlers who move to communities within Israel's
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who as housing minister in
former Israeli governments was a major architect of the country's
settlement policy, recently dismissed such suggestions.
"No settlement will be evacuated,'' Sharon said. "Such an
evacuation would only encourage terrorism and increase the pressure on
Settlers, who live on less than 2 percent of built-up areas, now
control 42 percent of West Bank land, according to B'Tselem.
Palestinians, on the other hand, are systematically denied building
permits and prevented from expanding their communities, the group
"Israel has created in the occupied territories a regime of
separation... basing the rights of individuals on their nationality,''
B'Tselem stated. "This regime is the only one of its kind in the
world, and is reminiscent of distasteful (ones) from the past, such as
the apartheid regime in South Africa.''
A spokesman for the Yesha Council, the main settlers group, poured
scorn on B'Tselem's findings.
Noting that settlers controlled "only'' 42 percent of West
Bank land, the spokesman said: "It's regrettable that the
settlement movement has not managed to implement the Zionist vision to
settle between the sea and the Jordan at a much (faster) pace.''
According to B'Tselem, about 247,000 settlers lived in the West
Bank in 1993, the year Israeli and Palestinian leaders signed an
interim peace accord. Their numbers grew to 380,000 by the end of
But their homes could be affected by future peace agreements.
Palestinians, who view settlements as the embodiment of illegal
occupation and obstacles to a future state, have in previous proposals
called for their dismantlement. Palestinian militants say Jews who
live in the settlements are fair targets for attacks.
Last week, the Bush administration called on Sharon to stop
building new settlements. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is
trying to get regional leaders to attend a Middle East peace
conference this summer, said this month that "something will have
to be done about the settlements that are there now.''
Under Sharon, 34 new settlements have sprouted on hilltops in the
West Bank, according to a recent report by Peace Now, which tracks
Leaders of Peace Now and B'Tselem have criticized the Israeli
government for giving settlers attractive financial incentives --
loans, tax breaks and government grants -- to move to the West Bank.
But other settlers don't need any financial lure. They move to the
West Bank because they believe it is part of the land called Judea and
Samaria which, according to their scriptures, God granted to the
Jewish people. Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967,
then turned over parts of the territories to Palestinian control
during the peace process of the past decade.
Yitzhak Pindrus, the mayor of Beitar Ilit, a settlement of 25,000
mainly Orthodox Jews near Jerusalem, said B'Tselem's report was
"B'Tselem should focus on human rights abuses, not real estate
problems,'' Pindrus said. "There's no reason why Jews shouldn't
live in Arab communities and enjoy good relations.''