On the sandy outskirts of the largest Jewish settlement in the West Bank, apartment buildings are going up so fast that the population is expected to double in five years.
Construction continues apace at Maaleh Adumim, just outside Jerusalem, despite a US-backed peace plan that calls for an almost immediate end to such building in return for a Palestinian crackdown on militant groups.
The peace "road map" drawn up by the US, the UN, the EU and Russia calls for a freeze of "all settlement activity including natural growth" as part of reciprocal steps paving the way to a Palestinian state by 2005.
But halting construction at established settlements such as Maaleh Adumim could prove an even bigger obstacle to the plan than the removal of more than 50 small settlements built on hilltops in Palestinian areas since March 2001.
Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said Israel had agreed to examine the legality of hilltop construction and remove illegal settlements but would never agree to stop construction within settlement boundaries.
"Do they want a pregnant woman to have an abortion?" Gissin quoted Sharon as saying on the subject, adding that freezing building within settlement boundaries would be a contradiction of an understanding reached with the US in 2001.
In Maaleh Adumim, a settlement of 30,000 people 10 minutes by car from Jerusalem, stopping construction for "natural growth" is dismissed out of hand.
"I don't know what natural growth is," said Benny Kashriel, its mayor for the past 11 years. "A city that lies within national consensus should not [be] restricted."
Israel declared Maaleh Adumim an Israeli city in 1992, even though it is built on land occupied in the 1967 Middle East war and the international community regards settlements as illegal under international law. Israel disputes this.
* Both sides renounce violence.
* Palestinians ``undertake an immediate cessation of violence," make efforts to disarm violent cells, restructure security services and reform their administration in preparation for statehood.
* Israel and the Palestinians resume security coordination.
* Israel stops attacks and withdraws to pre-violence lines.
* Palestinian state is formed with a Constitutional democracy and ``provisional borders and ... sovereignty.''
* Conference on economic aid and a provisional state with ``maximum territorial contiguity.''
* A conference oversees negotiations on final issues: borders -- Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and Jewish settlements -- with a treaty by 2005 leading to comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arab world.
Israel has built 145 settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where the Palestinians seek an independent state.
"All settlement activity, be it natural growth or new settlements, is being built on Palestinian land," said Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Amr. He called such construction "a slap in the face to all efforts to revive peace talks."
Some 450 families have already moved into the area of Maaleh Adumim where the new apartment buildings have gone up. The neighbourhood has three kindergartens, a synagogue and community center.
Municipal plans call for the completion of 3,500 new homes for 15,000 people by 2008. Many buildings are already under construction on adjacent streets. Housing is cheaper than in nearby Jerusalem, the city is clean and services are good.
Maaleh Adumim has one shopping mall and a second is under construction. It has a college with about 1,500 students and land has been cleared for a second. A recently completed tunnel has cut the driving time to Jerusalem.
In 1994 then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who received the Nobel Peace prize with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat for signing interim peace accords, allocated more land to Maaleh Adumim to link it territorially to Jerusalem.
"When he came here, Rabin told me that he told the Palestinians and Americans clearly at Camp David that Maaleh Adumim is out of the negotiations," said Kashriel. "The minute it is out of negotiations there is no problem with expansion."