Jewish settlements control more than 42 percent of the West Bank, and much of that land was seized from Palestinian landowners in defiance of an Israeli Supreme Court ban, an Israeli human rights group said yesterday.
The group’s findings echo what other anti-settlement activists have claimed in the past: That settlements have taken over lands far beyond their immediate perimeters, sometimes from private Palestinians. Israel’s settlements have been a much-criticized enterprise throughout the decades and a major obstacle to peacemaking with the Palestinians.
“The extensive geographic-spatial changes that Israel has made in the landscape of the West Bank undermine the negotiations that Israel has conducted for 18 years with the Palestinians and breach its international obligations,” the B’Tselem group said in a summary of its report.
Settlers disputed the figures and said the report by the B’Tselem group was politically motivated. Israeli officials had no comment.
The report was based on official state documents, including military maps and a military settlement database, the B’Tselem said.
Although the actual buildings of the settlements cover just 1 percent of the West Bank’s land area, their jurisdiction and regional councils extends to more than 42 percent, the group said.
Twenty-one percent of the land for these settlements was seized from Palestinian landowners, much of it after Israel’s Supreme Court outlawed the practice in 1979.
Dani Dayan, chairman of the settlers council, said settlements control just 9.2 percent of the West Bank, not 42 percent.
“It’s a political report by an organization that has been taken over [by] the most radical anti-Israel elements,” Dayan said. “The whole point is to sabotage the meeting between [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu and [US President] Barack Obama.”
Netanyahu was en route yesterday to Washington, where he was due to meet with Obama later in the day to discuss advancing peacemaking and other regional issues.
Some 300,000 Jews live in West Bank settlements and an additional 180,000 live in Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem. Israel captured both territories from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast War, along with the Gaza Strip.
The Palestinians envision all three areas for a future state.
Meanwhile, thousands of Israelis and dozens of Palestinians separately gathered on either side of the Gaza Strip border on Monday demanding a prisoner swap.
On the Israeli side, the parents of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held in the Gaza Strip for four years, were accompanied by thousands calling for his release in exchange for hundreds of Palestinians Israel is holding in its jails.
Shalit, now 23, was captured by Palestinian militants who tunneled from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel in June 2006.
Israel and Hamas Islamists, which now runs the coastal enclave, have failed to agree terms for a deal in which about 1,000 of the 7,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel would be released in exchange for Shalit.
Shalit’s parents and their thousands of supporters listened to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra play Mozart, Beethoven and Verdi at a park a few kilometers from the spot where Shalit was taken. It ended with yellow balloons being released into the sky.
The concert was organized by private supporters of the Shalit family who have gained increased sympathy from the Israeli public.
“We want to think of Gilad Shalit today, who is suffering for four years, without visitation and we want to do something so that visitation will be allowed and that negotiations will be rapider,” the orchestra’s Indian conductor Zubin Mehta said.
The dozens of Palestinian demonstrators on the Gaza side close to the Erez border crossing held banners that read: “Both of us have the same goal and now you have the chance to release your son as well as our sons and daughters.”
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