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Sunday Sept. 5, 2010 10:30 AM (EST+7)
Settlement freeze a fiction, says watchdog group

Read more: settlements, settlement freeze, settlers, colonies, colonization, Peace Now, Dror Etkes

RAMALLAH, September 5 (JMCC) - Israel's settlement freeze is a fiction, Peace Now tells Der Spiegel. Nearly half of the settlements are the site of active construction and only five government projects have been frozen.

The construction boom here began shortly before the building freeze, says Dror Etkes, who is perhaps the Israeli who knows the most about the settlements. For years he has been documenting settlement construction and submitting complaints against illegal projects.

Etkes is sure that active construction is taking place in at least 46 out of 120 settlements. Building projects have only actually been frozen in five settlements, he says. Even government inspectors have found violations of the moratorium in 29 settlements. So far, however, no construction firm has been called to account over those violations. That is despite the fact that the building freeze, for the first time in Israeli history, is not just a political requirement, but is actually enshrined in law -- meaning that any violation should be legally punished.

Additionally, infrastructure projects are not included in the building moratorium. As a result, a number of sewage treatment plants and water reservoirs are being built in settlements -- including on Palestinian land. In Beitar Illit, a new road is being built.

Neither were the associated financial incentives -- the only reason that many Israelis choose to live in the West Bank -- affected by the moratorium. Those benefits include cheap loans, subsidized rents, tax breaks and countless other perks, all of which could easily be cancelled.

The difference between the level of construction before and during the moratorium is much, much less than the settlers claim, says Etkes. It's not just that the building freeze has been undermined -- it was a fiction right from the outset. One of the consequences, he says, has been that construction activities have become even more focused on the eastern settlements -- in other words, those small, isolated and often radical settlements that would need to be evacuated if a peace agreement were reached. It is expected that the inhabitants of those settlements would defend themselves with force against such a move.

Read the story at Der Spiegel...






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