Israel accelerates settlement expansion after Annapolis

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and US President George W. Bush follow contradictory policy tracks. In the major media offensive accompanying last November’s US-sponsored Annapolis peace conference both leaders presented themselves as the peace makers of the region. In Annapolis, Olmert committed to freezing settlement expansion. However, since that time according to numerous sources ranging from Israeli newspapers, to Peace Now, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as well as the websites of the Israeli Central Bureau, and the Ministry of Construction and Housing, Olmert’s government has been accelerating illegal settlement expansion on occupied Palestinian land.

Six months since Annapolis the planning of settlements has accelerated. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak approved the construction of almost 1,000 housing units in several settlements in the West Bank. Furthermore the Israeli authorities announced plans, approved by Olmert, for the construction of an additional 2,900 units in settlements in the West Bank, including 750 units in Giv’at Zeev, and 1,900 housing units to be built this year for settlers who had to leave Gaza in 2005. In addition, Israel worked on the advancement of another 9,500 housing units in and around East Jerusalem, of which over 5,000 units have already been submitted for public review. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz the municipality of Jerusalem started the process of approving a plan for a new settlement complex with a synagogue in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan.

The website of the Israeli Ministry of Construction and Housing reports current construction projects for almost 4,900 housing units in at least nine “urban” settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Almost all of the construction takes place in the Jerusalem area, with over 2,000 housing units in Har Homa alone. Data from the same ministry show that the Israeli government began the construction of almost 300 housing units in West Bank settlements in the first three months after Annapolis.

Since Annapolis, the infrastructure of the occupation has been further expanded. In the southern Hebron district, 766 dunums of Palestinian land was confiscated for the construction of the apartheid wall around Eshkolot settlement. The patrol road along Road 60 to the south of the “Tunnel” checkpoint terminal in Bethlehem was also continued during this period. In addition, new checkpoint terminals at Beit Yatir and Tarqumiya were constructed in the Hebron governorate and al-Jab’a checkpoint in the Bethlehem governorate. Furthermore, the construction of the Jerusalem light rail is ongoing, as is the excavation work on tunnels near the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, and the construction of several settler bypass roads. In fact, the number of Israeli checkpoints, roadblocks and other obstacles increased since Annapolis by eight percent from 561 to 607.

Rather than ceasing settlement activity, Olmert’s government is putting a lot of effort in its expansion and the infrastructure of the occupation. These construction activities are in clear violation of the Geneva convention of 1949 that prohibits the occupying power from transferring its civilian population to the occupied territory. In spite of Bush’s call for a Palestinian state by the end of his term and European envoy Tony Blair’s endless photo-ops, Israel’s illegal actions continue with impunity, revealing how truly hollow and insincere the statements and sentiments which emanated from Annapolis were last November.

Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate.