Human Rights Watch appeals to continue settlement freeze

Last-minute letter asks Israeli government to "make permanent and total the partial freeze on construction."

On the final day before construction was to resume in West Bank Jewish settlements, the New York-based Human Rights Watch organization issued a last-minute appeal to the Israeli government to institutionalize the building moratorium in the settlements.
“Israel should make permanent and total the partial ‘freeze’ on construction in the West Bank Jewish settlements,” the organization said in a press release on Sunday.
“Israel’s construction of settlements and their infrastructure violates its obligations as an occupying power and the rights of Palestinians in the West Bank, including unjustly limiting their ability to build homes and access their lands.”
Based on figures published recently by Peace Now, HRW pointed out that Israeli planning authorities have approved plans allowing for the construction of 13,000 new housing units in the settlements, including at least 2,066 on which preparatory work has begun or for which municipal authorities have already issued building permits.
In Betar Illit, for example, 150 housing units are ready for immediate construction. HRW pointed out that the town of about 35,000 inhabitants overlooks the Palestinian village of Nahalin, which has a population of 7,000.
The human rights organization charged that while Betar Illit has continued to develop since its establishment, Israeli restrictions have prevented Nahalin from expanding for the last 15 years. The government, it added, has provided no space to accommodate the growth of Nahalin’s population and need for new housing.
According to the Oslo Agreements, Palestinians living in Area C of the West Bank (which is under full Israeli security and administrative control) may only build new houses within the area that was already built up in 1995.
Only Israeli authorities can permit Palestinian construction in the agricultural areas belonging to the villagers.
HRW quoted Nahalin residents who charged that there is hardly any land for construction inside the built-up area of the village, and Israeli authorities refuse to grant permits in the areas beyond.
“We hear repeatedly from Israeli leaders about the ‘natural growth’ needs of Israeli settlers on occupied territory, but not a word about the virtual refusal to accommodate the natural-growth needs of the Palestinians in the area,” charged Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW Middle East director.
Furthermore, the organization charged, while the Israeli government claims that it needs to build to accommodate natural growth in the settlements, the settler population grew by 5 percent in 2008, while the population inside Israel grew by 1.8%. Peace Now estimated that “immigrants” to the West Bank accounted for 37% of settlement growth in 2007.