West Bank Settlements Increasing
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Jewish settlements in the West Bank have increased under the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, according to a report released Thursday by Peace Now, an Israeli pressure group that favors giving up most or all of the West Bank and Gaza for peace.
The report said 25 new settlement sites have sprung up since Sharon was elected in February, contrary to recommendations by an international commission and the guidelines of Sharon’s own coalition government.
A commission led by former Sen. George Mitchell suggested in April that the government ``freeze all settlement activity, including the ‘natural growth’ of existing settlements.″
Peace Now said at least 10 new settlements have been set up since then.
The government’s policy, published in March, says no new settlements will be created but leaves the door open for the expansion of existing communities.
About 200,000 Israelis live in 150 settlements in the West Bank and Gaza among about 3 million Palestinians.
Israeli government spokesman Daniel Seaman said no new settlements were authorized in recent months. The Defense Ministry was checking whether the sites listed by Peace Now were indeed unsanctioned new settlements, he said.
``Any illegal construction is and will be handled by the appropriate authorities in due time,″ he said.
The United States and the European Union have called Israel’s settlement policy an obstacle to peace. The Palestinians call the settlements as illegal encroachment on their territory.
Israel says the West Bank and Gaza Strip have never been under the legitimate sovereignty of any other state, and their final status is still to be negotiated.