Peace Now says West Bank settlements are still growing
Group says 88 settlements expanded, 10 new permanent structures built in unauthorized outposts.
Israel is expanding most of its West Bank settlements despite a commitment to stop doing so as it tries to resume peace talks with the Palestinians, according to a Peace Now report released Wednesday.
The report by the group Peace Now showed construction in 88 settlements in the West Bank, most of them located in large settlement blocs that Israel hopes to retain in a final peace agreement.
Halting settlement growth is one of the first steps Israel is supposed to take under the U.S.-backed road map peace plan. Israel and the Palestinians have reiterated their commitment to the plan as preparations move ahead for a peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland at the end of this month.
"All that Israel is doing on the ground is of course an obstacle to all that we are trying to achieve," Rafiq Husseini, a top aide to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, said in response to the report's findings.
The road map requires the Palestinians to end violence and crack down on armed groups. Neither side has carried out the steps the plan demands of them since it was first presented in 2003.
The settlements are a key issue for the Palestinians, who want to include all of the West Bank in a future state.
Along with the growth in Israel's officially authorized settlements, the Peace Now report said, settlers have put up at least 10 more permanent structures in some of the 105 unauthorized outposts built in the West Bank since the 1990s to prevent land from being turned over to the Palestinians.
The road map requires Israel to dismantle all unauthorized outposts built since March 2001. According to Peace Now, 51 fall into that category.
Of 30 outposts evacuated by the government over the years, only 12 were inhabited, Peace Now said. Of those, four were repopulated by settlers, three were moved, one is now maintained by the army and only four were completely dismantled, according to the report.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert acknowledged this week that both sides have not fully implemented the road map, and said Israel was committed to doing so. But he did not say when or if Israel would freeze settlement construction or evacuate outposts.