A continuing colonization

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There is no way to describe the presence of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and their ongoing growth except as a government-supported process of colonizing Palestinian land. These settlements have a daily impact upon the standard of living of the average Palestinian, besides their detrimental impact upon Israeli-Palestinian talks over a future resolution to the conflict.

There are 352 Israeli controlled areas in the West Bank alone. These include 175 Israeli colonies, 61 military bases, 50 facility sites (water tanks, gas stations, etc.) and 59 “outposts.” Since the Israeli elections in February of 2001 when Arial Sharon was elected prime minister, 19 new outposts have been erected in the West Bank. These Israeli- controlled areas occupy 2.4 percent of the West Bank (not including the agricultural land under Israeli control in the Jordan Valley) according to spot images taken in 2000. That may not sound like a great deal, until one understands that Palestinian built-up areas occupy only 9.4 percent of the West Bank.

The settlers are consolidated in areas and population concentrations that form a real obstacle to peace. The number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank exceeds 400,000 people, including the settlers of East Jerusalem. The majority of those settlers (75.5 percent) reside in colonies with a population over 5,000. These colonies are located in the central part of the West Bank near Jerusalem and in the northern part of the West Bank, near Salfit. Over 14 percent of the settlers live in colonies of between 1,000 and 5,000 people and are located in the middle and northern parts of the West Bank. The rest of the settlers, some 10 percent, reside in colonies scattered all over the West Bank with populations of less than 1,000.

In Gaza, the areas controlled by Israel make up 15 percent of the land, and the existing colonies occupy 4.9 percent of that land.

Further, these colonies persist due to the systematic financial support given them by the Israeli government. For the year 2001, a staggering $350 million was allocated to the colonies in the Knesset budget proposal. Nearly ninety percent of the settlers and 86 percent of the colonies are designated as “national priority A,” which gifts them with a formidable incentives package. These benefits include a 7 percent income tax break, housing grants, subsidized mortgages, free schooling from age three, free school busing, and grants for business industry, agriculture and tourism.

As such, the Israeli government’s protestations that the settlements must be allowed “natural growth” is only a politically expedient term created by Israel to disguise its efforts to “thicken” and expand the settlements. Consider this: 60 percent of Israeli construction in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is state-funded, compared with 25 percent within Israel. The rate of growth in the Territories is estimated at between eight and ten percent, while the rate of growth in Israel is two to three percent, according to Peace Now. Therefore, it is the government that is promoting the growth of the settlements, despite that reliable sources assure us that many housing units in the Territories remain empty today.

The results are devastating to both Palestinian national interests and the individual Palestinian. Three Israeli colony blocks–located in the mid- north, central and mid-south–of the West Bank, taken along with the by-pass roads that extend from them to the east, slice through the West Bank from the east to the west. A series of colonies and military bases in the Jordan Valley act as a physical barrier to Palestinians from the eastern border. Several colony clusters are located very close to (if not on) the Green Line (the boundary between Israel and the West Bank) in a clear attempt to redraw the Green line in Israel’s favor. Many of these then have “twin towns” on the western or Israeli side of the Green Line. A good example of that attempt to consolidate land is the positioning of Modiin town next to Kiryat Sefer colony.

The colonies also surround Palestinian areas, with more than 200 Palestinian towns and villages lying 500 meters or less away from Israeli-controlled areas. Twenty-four of these colonies are located on highly sensitive agricultural land and 128 colonies are located on moderately sensitive agricultural land. In the West Bank, 115 colonies are located in highly sensitive water recharge areas, 25 on sensitive water discharge areas and 17 on moderately sensitive water discharge areas. The results can be seen in the much higher Israeli water consumption and standard of. Israeli daily individual consumption of water in these colonies is ten times greater than that of Palestinians.

Samih Al Abed is deputy minister of the Palestinian Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation and member of the Palestinian team for final status negotiations.

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