Land lies at the very heart of the Middle East conflict. The Israeli settlements inside the Palestinian territories remain the most divisive issue between the two sides and is once blocking again negotiations. Under pressure from the US Israel has halted building on disputed land, suspending tenders for new construction projects until next year. But Palestinians say the freeze is a sham as it has not prevented private work from going ahead.
Around 300,000 settlers are living in the West Bank with a further 200,000 are accommodated in illegal homes in Arab East Jerusalem. And building accelerated in the early part of this year. .. Yariv Oppeinheimer of the group “Peace Now” said: “Around 600 new houses have been built all over the settlements in the West Bank. This not really a settlement freeze, this is more like a continue of settlement expansion. The only positive thing is that the government is not issuing any new tenders for housing construction but the settlers find their way to take some old plans and to implement them in the West Bank” At least 417 tenders were issued in 2008 for the West Bank and 171 for East Jerusalem. There has s been none since April. It is a very delicate issue within Israel’s right-wing cabinet. Cabinet member Daniel Hershkowitz said “Well I’m against freezing of building in settlements so i think that natural growth is moral, is humanic (sic), so I’m very happy if so” But Palestinians, and the UN, complain that Israeli courts deal with some cases of illegal housing in a completely different way. Evictions of Palestinians from what are ruled to be Israeli properties in East Jerusalem are on the rise. Chris Guness, a UN spokesman, said: “What you see here, lives just strewn on the streets of Jerusalem, this is what occupation is actually about, that’s what’s going on here, now in Jerusalem and that’s why we say can the world please wake up and realise what is happening” The Obama administration has taken a relatively tough line on the settlements question, believing that no resumption of talks would be possible until a freeze on construction as in place. It is a start but there is little evidence of a dramatic breakthrough coming anytime soon.