The left-wing activist group Peace Now charged on Tuesday that settlers were able to expand 31 illegal outposts and that construction in the settlements had continued while the public and the government's attention was taken up with the Lebanon War this summer.
"It appears that the summer of 2006, marked by the fighting in south Lebanon, provided a golden opportunity for the settlers to deepen their hold on the land without the media being available to cover it," said Peace Now spokesman Yariv Oppenheimer in the report.
He discounted statements made by Defense Minister Amir Peretz regarding the government's intention to evacuate outposts over the next few months.
"I do not see this government confronting the setters without real pressure from outside," said Oppenheimer.
Yet he denied that he had timed the report to coincide with a visit by United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who arrives in Israel on Wednesday.
The settler's council denounced the report as inaccurate and misleading.
National Union-National Religious Party MK Aryeh Eldad said, "Peace Now are from the extremist fringes of Israeli politics. They thought that after they succeeded in selling their diplomatic plan to an Israeli prime minister under investigation the rest of Israel would join their suicidal plans. [Former Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon agreed because his lawyers told him to, but the Israeli public won't buy it."
But already last week Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni of Kadima said that the unauthorized outposts should be evacuated. Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev reiterated those statements on Tuesday and added that expansion amounted to "piracy." According to the report, some 18 new caravans have been placed in 13 unauthorized outposts. In other outposts there was building, infrastructure and road construction.
The largest amount of activity, 39 percent, was in the area of the Binyamin Regional Council, 29% in the Shomron and 20% in the Gush Etzion area.
A March 2005 report authored by attorney Talia Sasson at the request of former prime minister Ariel Sharon's government found that 105 outposts in Judea and Samaria were illegal.
Oppenheimer said that in light of this report and pledges made by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government he was disappointed to see that expansion and construction had continued in the unauthorized settlements.
"This time we really expected that something would happen and that is why we are so frustrated," he said.
Peace Now also took issue with continued legal construction within authorized settlements in the West Bank.
Regev said it was important to distinguish between the construction and expansion of the unauthorized outposts, a move the government opposed, and construction within authorized Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
With respect to the settlements, Israel's policy is well known, Regev said.
"We are not building new settlements. We are not outwardly expanding existing settlement; any construction that is going on, [is occurring] inside existing settlement blocs. [These are] places in which there is a consensus that they will remain in Israel in any final status agreement," said Regev.
While the report warned that the number of housing tenders published this year was higher than last year at this time, it noted that the actual construction was down.
Last March 4,144 housing units were under construction in the territories compared with 3,525 this March, stated the report. The highest number of new housing units are being built in Beitar Illit, Ma'ale Adumim, Modi'in Illit and Alfei Menashe, stated the report.
According to the report, the new police station in the controversial area east of Ma'ale Adumim has almost been completed.
Emily Amrusi, a spokeswoman for the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip said in response to the report that she only wished it were correct.
Instead the council has fought with little success for permission to build even to the point of natural growth just to allow for school construction or for the children of existing residents to build a home next to their parents.
Just building a porch in Ma'aleh Adumim requires that one deal with an enormous amount of red tape.
She noted that 11 of the soldiers that died in the war with Lebanon this summer were from the territories. She can only imagine, she said, that Peace Now had confused the mourning tents the families set up with new construction.