Peace Now: Settlements are expanding

Group says dozens of new buildings being built in outposts which authorities have stopped monitoring.

outpost w. bank 224 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
outpost w. bank 224 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Settlements across the Green Line are growing at a rate over three times faster than the average community growth in Israel, according to a Peace Now report released Wednesday. Furthermore, settlers have developed new systems of circumventing rules designed to limit the expansion of current settlements and outposts, the organization said. "We at Peace Now believe that on the eve of [the] Annapolis [peace talks], Israel needs to show that it is serious and that [its] interest truly is in conducting a peace treaty. Israel must start to carry out the most basic steps to assure the other side that they are serious," said Hagit Ofran. In the report, the organization said that despite the government's pledge to freeze settlement expansion, dozens of new buildings had been erected inside existing settlements in the past year. The report cited building projects under way in Betar Illit, Ma'aleh Adumim, Givat Ze'ev and other communities which would see hundreds of new apartments and houses constructed in the near future. Construction is currently being carried out in 88 settlements and permanent structures are being built in 34 outposts, according to the report. Using data gathered by the Central Bureau of Statistics, Peace Now reported that the total number of people living in settlements stands at 267,500 - demonstrating an annual growth of 5.8 percent. The average annual growth in Israel as a whole is a mere 1.8%. The report also contained photographs showing the assembly of trailers in West Bank communities. These trailers, the organization said, were built in the West Bank in order to circumvent a rule prohibiting the transport of mobile homes without a permit from the Civil Administration. Instead, the organization said, the trailers were transported in parts, and then assembled within the settlements where they would be inhabited. In a response to the report, the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip expressed pride in the data provided. "This proves that settlement expansion is experiencing a momentum that has not stopped, despite terrorism, construction freezes and political pressure," sources in the council said. They added that they thanked Peace Now for its documentation of the endeavor. "We expect to have over 300,000 residents by the end of next year. May there be many more," the sources said. MK Uri Ariel (NU-NRP) said he felt the state was not allowing enough development. "Sadly, the defense minister is 'drying out' settlements in Judea and Samaria. The situation is intolerable, and I hope that we can have a meeting to sort the situation out soon. I cannot believe that a Jew - an Israeli minister - would remove Jews who are living here legally." Sheera Claire Frenkel contributed to this report.