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(photo credit: Courtesy)
Under the slogan "Not Obama's. Not the world's. Settlement activity is an Israeli problem," Peace Now launched a new campaign Tuesday designed to show how the settlements are a stumbling block to peace.
The issue of settlements has to be solved for internal Israeli reasons, which have nothing to do with pressure from US President Barack Obama or the international community, said Peace Now secretary-general Yariv Oppenheimer.
"Anyone who believes in the two-state solution must support a settlement freeze," because the only alternative is a one-state solution, said Oppenheimer.
His group, he said, plans to take out billboard and newspaper ads against the settlements, presenting them as a financial, diplomatic and security problem.
If Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is sincere when he says he wants a two-state solution, he should freeze settlement activity, said Oppenheimer.
Hagit Ofran of Peace Now warned that by 2015 the number of Palestinians in both the West Bank and Israel was likely to exceed the number of Jews, by 51.5 percent to 48.5%. She said that these projections were based on numbers from the Central Bureau of Statistics in Israel and the PA.
If the West Bank is not given to the Palestinians, Jews will become a minority within their own state, she said.
Financially, she said, the settlements have been a burden, and over the years they have cost the government NIS 100 billion. In the 2009-10 draft budget, between NIS 1b. and NIS 3b. were to be spent on the settlements. Of this, only NIS 1b. has been clearly accounted for.
Turning to the 100 unauthorized outposts in the West Bank, Ofran claimed that 700 soldiers guarded 36 of them.
However, her facts on the campaign itself came under heavy attack from demographer Yoram Ettinger and the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
Ettinger called the Peace Now figures "absolute nonsense," asserting that the Palestinian population figures in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip used to make the argument were inflated. He estimated that last year, Jews made up 59% of the population on either side of the green line, compared with Peace Now's estimate of 51%.
Dani Dayan, who heads the Council, said he found it outrageous that Peace Now would talk about how settlements were an internal Israeli problem when the group relied on funds from Europe.
With respect to the number of soldiers guarding unauthorized outposts, he said, based on Peace Now's figures, there would be 20 soldiers assigned to each of those 36 outposts.
People living in those communities are entitled to protection, he said, but the numbers "have no foundation, they are a gross exaggeration."
The IDF refused to confirm the Peace Now statistics regarding the unauthorized outposts, but said it protected Israeli citizens no matter who they were and where they were. It added that it based its treatment of the outposts on directives from the political echelon.