Proximity 'peacetalks' have started Monday between Israel and the Palestinians. US special envoy Mitchell will shuttle between a Palestinian delegation and an Israeli one. As if he intended to ridicule the talks even before they had begun, Israeli Defense minister Ehud Barak gave permission on the same day for the building of an additional 112 homes in the settlement Betar Illit near Bethlehem, in spite of a 10 month moratorium on building in the occupied West Bank. The Palestinians were understandably quite angry, the US reacted very low key. Barak, as a justification for his green light, invoked the magical word 'security'. It appears that there is a 'gap' of about 40 meters between two rows of houses in the settlement. (And yes, that sounds alarming indeed. A gap of 40 meters!!)
On Tuesday also vice-president Joe Biden landed in Israel. It appears that his visit will be focused on bilateral matters. Al Jazeera suggests that it is mainly about Iran and that Biden wants the Israelis 'to cool it' with their demands for tough sanctions and threats to attack.
In the meantime: Anyone who had any illusions left that there would be any chance that the 'peace talks' will reach a serious stage, should take a look at the following news from the Central Bureau of Statistics in Israel about building on the occupied West Bank. The news appeared in the Jerusalem Post:
The number of housing starts in the settlements rose in the fourth quarter of 2009, precisely when the government-ordered freeze on such activity should have pushed the numbers down.Work was begun on 593 Jewish West Bank homes from October through December, a 73.3-percent jump over the first three months of 2009, when ground was broken on 342 homes, according to numbers released this week by the Central Bureau of Statistics.The numbers continued to rise in the fourth quarter, even though Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the cabinet imposed a 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction that took effect on November 29, which should have prevented any housing starts in December, and thus kept the fourth quarter tally down.
Since the moratorium was put in place, inspectors from the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria have gone to all the settlements to monitor and ensure compliance. In some places they were initially met with stiff resistance by settlers who tried to block their entry by closing the community gates or by rallying in the middle of the road.
Last month, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i said 29 settlements were in violation of the freeze.The civil administration and the IDF have handed demolition notices in cases of illegal construction and have threatened to demolish such work sites.But to date, they have destroyed construction at only three sites where work was ongoing in violation of the freeze.
According to the terms of the moratorium, work was halted on all homes that lacked a foundation. But work was allowed to continue on 3,000 homes that did have foundations in place.
According to the CBS, the number of homes completed in the settlements also rose in 2009, to 2,077 homes, a 29.7% hike (my emphasis, TP) from the 1,601 West Bank Jewish homes that were finished in 2008. In 2007, 1,747 homes were finished and in 2006, 2,167 homes were completed.