New iPhone app tracks Israeli settlement expansion
As Israeli settlement building resumes after a 10-month freeze, the antisettlement group Peace Now has unveiled an iPhone app featuring daily updates.
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"Most of these settlements are in peripheral areas,'' says Avraham Diskin, a political science professor at Hebrew University, who compared them with frontier towns in the Negev desert. "People aren't familiar with them. Most people don't know the West Bank.''Skip to next paragraph
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The outbreak of violence during two Palestinian uprisings, the first sparked in the late 1980s and the second 10 years ago today, deterred Israelis from visiting.
With little firsthand knowledge of the changes in the West Bank, few Israelis paid attention to the tripling of the settler population since Israelis and Palestinians began peace negotiations 17 years ago.
The recent construction of a separation barrier has made the West Bank, which many Israelis refer to by the biblical names Judea and Samaria, seem even more remote.
The growth of settlers in the West Bank is "an issue that the Israeli public doesn't care about," says Ori Nir, a spokesman for Americans for Peace Now. "There's a great deal of complacency. Even though most people know what the implications of construction is for Israel's identity as a Jewish and democratic state, there's a certain shortsightedness."
Why many see settlements as illegal
The United Nations, Palestinians, and supporters such as Peace Now have repeatedly declared the settlements as illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which forbid the transfer of civilian populations into an occupied territory.
Settlers and their supporters, however, see the West Bank – conquered by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War and, according to the Bible, promised by God to the Hebrew people – as fair game.
With more than 300,000 Israelis living in West Bank settlements, it is expected that at least some of these communities would be annexed to Israel as part of a final peace deal – perhaps as part of a land swap in which Arab towns within Israel would become part of a Palestinian state.
But the steady expansion of settlements has made it increasingly complicated for Israeli and Palestinian leaders to strike a compromise in the talks.