Saturday, December 7, 2013
By AMY TEIBEL The Associated Press
JERUSALEM - Since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was elected more than three years ago, the Jewish population in the West Bank has ballooned by 18 percent, drawing tens of thousands of Israelis to the territory the Palestinians claim as the heartland of a future state, according to figures obtained by The Associated Press.
Children of Jewish settlers play in a pool at the unauthorized West Bank outpost of Nofei Nehemya on Monday. A government-appointed committee is recommending that Israel legalize dozens of unauthorized West Bank settlement outposts.
The Associated Press
WHAT IS THE DISAGREEMENT OVER THE WEST BANK?
Why do the Palestinians -- with strong international community backing -- regard the West Bank as occupied land?
The West Bank amounts to a part of British-ruled Palestine which was seized by Jordan during the war that broke out in 1948 with the British withdrawal and Israel's declaration of independence. Israel seized it in the 1967 war but has never annexed it, despite settling parts of it with Israeli citizens.
The Palestinians argue that since the West Bank was not Israeli territory at the time of its capture, the laws of occupation set down in the Hague Regulations and Fourth Geneva Convention must apply.
Many agree: U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967 calls for the "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict," meaning the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem; and the World Court ruled in 2004 that the territories were occupied and the Israeli settlements in them illegal.
Furthermore, the United Nations' General Assembly voted in 1947 to partition British Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state, and although the envisioned borders are not the same as those that emerged from the 1948-49 war, the West Bank roughly corresponds to the central parcel allocated by that plan to the Arab side.
Why does Israel disagree?
Israelis note that Jordan has no current claim on the territory (and its previous annexation was recognized by only three countries) -- and that there is no recognized state of Palestine that the land can be said to be occupied from (although scores of nations do recognize a "State of Palestine," most Western nations do not and the United Nations has yet to bestow such recognition).
Israelis note the Palestinians along with the rest of the Arab world rejected the 1947 partition plan.
In this complex reality, Israel's central argument is that since no internationally recognized country can be considered the clear rightful owner of the West Bank, the term "occupation" should not apply, and therefore the Geneva conventions governing occupations need not apply.
Israeli officials routinely refer to "disputed territory" -- a term the Palestinians reject.
-- The Associated Press
The rate of growth -- nearly twice that of Israel proper -- has deep implications for an already moribund peace process.
The issue is at the heart of a three-year-old impasse in Mideast peace efforts, and critics say each new settlement home makes it ever tougher for the Israelis and the Palestinians to reach the territorial compromise that would be needed for any agreement.
The rising settler numbers are "consistent with Netanyahu's commitment to maintain the Israeli control over the Palestinian territories and consistent with his lack of commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution," Palestinian government spokesman Ghassan Khatib said.
Israel, which has a population of almost 8 million, has long sought to cement its hold on the West Bank, captured from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war, by having masses of Jewish settlers live there.
For years, the two sides had discussed the possibility that in a final peace deal, Israel would maintain some settlements while uprooting others. Israel has shown more than once -- especially when it removed all of its 8,500 settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005 -- that it can tear down settlements when it thinks the price is worth it.
But the numbers in the West Bank are much higher, more than tripling since the first interim peace accord of 1993 to more than 342,000 at the end of 2011, according to Interior Ministry figures.
That includes a rise of more than 50,000, or 18 percent, since Netanyahu was elected in early 2009, driven by a high settler birth rate and the migration of Israelis to the West Bank.
The numbers do not include some 200,000 Jews living in areas of Jerusalem that Israel captured in the 1967 war and immediately annexed.
The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as their capital, and along with the international community, consider these enclaves to be settlements. Israel says east Jerusalem is part of Israel because of the annexation.
With nearly 10 percent of Israel's 6 million Jews now living on occupied territory, the growing settler population has in effect erased the pre-1967 frontier, said pro-settler Jerusalem Post commentator Michael Freund.
"Jewish life in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem is growing and flourishing, and there is no human power on earth that is going to uproot or move hundreds of thousands of Jews from places such as Ariel, Tekoa or Hebron," he wrote in a recent column, referring to the West Bank by its biblical name and naming three settlements there.
The Palestinian growth rate in the West Bank, in the meantime, was far lower: In 2011, the population grew 2.8 percent to 2.19 million, from 2.13 million a year earlier, according to the Palestinian bureau of statistics.
Palestinians, who hope to create a state in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, consider the huge growth in the settlement population a violation of peace accords that barred both sides from altering the status quo through unilateral actions. They have demanded Israel halt all settlement construction as the price for resuming talks.
The settler growth rate is roughly in line with that of previous dovish Israeli governments. But the Palestinians express additional alarm over the leadership of Netanyahu, a longtime settler patron who repeatedly has ruled out the type of broad withdrawal the Palestinians demand.
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