Israel expanding settlements in East Jerusalem

Israel has published a document outlining goals for construction of 1,761 housing units for Israeli settlers in Palestinian territory, in violation of an American-backed peace plan. The planned expansion has come about despite promises by the Israeli government during a peace summit in Annapolis, Md., last year to stop all settlement growth.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stresses that settlement construction or expansion in the West Bank is contradictory to international law and commitments under the “road map” peace process.

The “road map” is a series of peace building measures that were proposed by President George W. Bush in 2002 and further developed by the United Nations, Russia, and the European Union.

Condoleezza Rice, U.S. secretary of state and a known Israel supporter, has also expressed concern about the settlement building during her last visit to Israel.

“The United States believes that the (settlement) actions and the announcements that are taking place are indeed having a negative effect on the atmosphere for negotiation,” said Rice, according to IPS News.

Rice made it clear that neither Israelis nor Palestinians have fully upheld their obligations. Israel was asked to end all settlement building and remove illegal settlement outposts, while Palestine has been asked to dismantle terrorist infrastructures.

The Geneva Conventions specifically forbid the transfer of civilian population into occupied territory, according to IPS News.

However, Peace Now, an Israeli peace advocacy group, has released a report on settlements using government data, visits and aerial photos. The report says that more than 1,000 buildings are going up in the West Bank, including 2,600 housing units. The statement says that in the first five months of 2008, contraction in the settlements was 1.8 times greater than in the same period of the last year.

The settlements, including the Har Homa neighborhood in East Jerusalem, which has had 130 new houses constructed, are built on on land Israel occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Israel has since then incorporated the areas into Jerusalem’s boundaries, a move that has yet to be recognized internationally.

Land expropriation from Palestinian farmers for the building and enlargement of Israeli settlements has caused unwarranted hardships and great economic suffering for Palestinians. Dana Hamdan, a Palestinian student from East Jerusalem, has witnessed these kinds of sufferings first hand.

“They (Israel) are changing the face of the Jerusalem and nobody’s doing anything about it,” said Hamdan.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said that settlement building should not influence the negotiation because the goals should be “not to let any kind of noises that relate to the situation on the ground these days enter the negotiation room,” according to The New York Times.

Meanwhile, American and Palestinian officials continue to reject the idea that such building is harmless to negotiations.