Israeli settlements: 'Facts on the ground' since 1967

JERUSALEM- The building of Israeli settlements, which threatens to derail the latest round of US-backed talks, has infuriated Palestinians and the wider Arab world since it began more than 40 years ago.
The Palestinians view the presence of a half million Israelis in more than 120 settlements scattered across the occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem as a major threat to the establishment of their future state.

The international community, including Israel's closest ally the United States, considers as illegal all such settlements, but they have expanded under every Israeli government since the occupation began in June 1967.
Within months of Israel's seizure during the Six Day War of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem -- lands now expected to form a future state -- work began on the first settlement of Gush Etzion, near Jerusalem.
Leaders of the settler movement view the West Bank and east Jerusalem as an integral part of the "Land of Israel" which was given to the Jews by God, and see the settlements as "facts on the ground" to prevent any withdrawal.
Since the launch of the Oslo peace process in 1993, the settler population has nearly tripled with the encouragement of Israel's right-wing leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former premier Ariel Sharon, widely known as the "father of the settler movement."
However, in 2005 Sharon championed a new strategy of limited unilateral withdrawal and evacuated all of Israel's 8,000 settlers from Gaza.
And Netanyahu, whose Likud party and governing coalition are dominated by settler supporters, has said he is willing to discuss settlements as a final status issue.
Last November, under US pressure, Netanyahu imposed a partial 10-month moratorium on West Bank settlement building.
But the restrictions are set to expire on September 30, and the Palestinians have warned they will abandon the talks if construction resumes. Netanyahu has hinted he will let the moratorium expire but curb major projects.
The settlements range from clusters of mobile homes on remote hilltops to modern suburbs with shopping malls, apartment blocks and swimming pools. The largest, Maale Adumim outside Jerusalem, has more than 30,000 residents.
Most of the settler population lives in the larger blocs and was attracted by the quality of life more than ideological considerations.
But a hardline minority frequently clash with Palestinians and have vowed to resist any effort by Israeli forces to evacuate settlers from the West Bank.

Thursday, September 16th 2010

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