iPhone App Monitors Israeli Settlement Building

In Israel, anti-settlement group Peace Now has launched an iPhone app with data that the group has amassed on Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Settlement building is one of the early stumbling blocks that could derail peace talks. Peace Now is offering detailed maps showing why Israeli settlements will also derail a two-state solution.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Just days from now, Israel reaches a milestone. For the moment, Israel has imposed a partial ban on West Bank settlements. That ban is about to expire. So Israel is under intense pressure to extend it. If Israel doesn't, Palestinians say they'll walk out of peace talks. Today, people are using new technology in this decades-old conflict, as NPR's Deborah Amos reports.

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DEBORAH AMOS: There is a new protest generation in Israel organized through Facebook with rallies posted on YouTube.�In this East Jerusalem neighborhood, the protestors oppose the court ordered eviction of long-time Arab residents, hold vigils against Jewish settlers who've moved into the Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.�

Mr. MICHAEL SALISBERY: Its a struggle over our future as youth, as people who are tired of fighting.

AMOS: Thats Michael Salisbery, an Israeli who comes each week to join with Palestinians.�

Mr. NASSER RAWI: My name is Nasser Rawi, and this is my house. The settlers occupied the house with Israeli special force.

AMOS: Rawi and his family were ordered out a year ago. Weekly protests here have been drawing larger crowds, especially in recent weeks, says Ruthie Victor.

Ms. RUTHIE VICTOR: I think the Israeli people are more open to hear about the solution.

AMOS: With tensions growing within the government over talks with the Palestinians, an older peace group has become more active again. This week, Peace Now launched an iPhone application and a new website called Facts on the Ground.

Peace Now leaders have monitored the settlements for years and warned of illegal growth. Now powerful mapping technology and extensive data are available for the first time for anyone with an iPhone or a computer, says Hagit Ofran, who heads the research team.�

Ms. HAGIT OFRAN (Peace Now): We want the Israeli public to know, and if its visual, its much easier for people to connect to it.

AMOS: The maps show the stark realities on the ground, the extent of the building - some 300,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and nearly 200,000 now live in East Jerusalem, the area seized in the 1967 war, land that Palestinians claim for a future state.

Just look at the map, says Ofran. She argues if settlement growth continues, a two-state solution is dead.

Ms. OFRAN: If Israel is building on the lands of this future state, then there is no two-state solution. So it is a crucial time now.

AMOS: This is one settlement on the Peace Now map. But a different public relations campaign is underway here.�Psagot was founded in 1981 on a strategic hill in the West Bank. The settlers who live here overlook the town of Ramallah, the Palestinians' commercial and political capital less than 10 miles away.�

Resident Tamara Ashraf wants to convince the Israeli public that Psagot is too important to give up. Shes running a workshop to teach other settlers how to counter the negative images that she says dominate the international media and the Israeli press.�

Ms. TAMARA ASHRAF: I think for many years the people who live here didnt work with the media. They didnt want to play the game with the media. I think it was a mistake, a very big mistake.

AMOS: Now there are tours for politicians and journalists - a new strategy across the West Bank settlements, tailored to the interests of the guests. The emphasis is less on security, more on the Old Testament history written in these hills. Also featured in Psagot: the fine wines produced for the Israel market.

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AMOS: There are cabernets and aged ports. Dozens of oak wine barrels line an underground cellar that dates back to biblical times.�

Do you think, though, its a bit of a hearts and minds campaign that you have to get into? Are you feeling that you have to get into this fight?

Ms. ASHRAF: I think we have to get into this field, into this territory, because if you're not inside, you automatically lose.

AMOS: The settlers have strong government backing, says Peace Nows Hagit Ofran. But now, she says, they see a reason to fight for public opinion.

Ms. OFRAN: I think it shows that they know that they're in real trouble, that the Israeli public do not see them as integral part of Israel.

AMOS: And while polls show 60 percent of Israelis favor dismantling most of the settlements if there is a peace with the Palestinians, government ministers sent out invitation this week to celebrate renewed construction on Sunday, when the building ban in the settlements is due to be lifted.

Deborah Amos, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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