Israeli Group: Leaked Maps Counter Government
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
We'll cross the border now to Israel. An advocacy group there says about 40 percent of the land held by Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank is legally, privately owned by Palestinians.
In a report issued today, the group Peace Now says it based its conclusion on maps and figures leaked from inside the Israeli government. NPR's Linda Gradstein reports.
LINDA GRADSTEIN: In a telephone interview today, Peace Now settlement coordinator Dror Etkes said the report findings are politically explosive.
Mr. DROR ETKES (Settlement Coordinator, Peace Now): This is the first time ever that the full dimension of the Israeli contiguous and systematic institutional land grab had been exposed.
GRADSTEIN: Etkes says that for years, Peace Now has been trying to obtain government documents detailing land ownership in the West Bank, but the government has refused repeated requests for information. He says his organization was only able to produce a report now because someone in the Israeli government leaked the data. Etkes says he has no doubt that the maps and the figures are authentic, and he says they answer the crucial question of what percentage of the Jewish settlements are built on privately owned land.
Mr. ETKES: The database, which we used in order to answer this question, is not our own database. It's not any Palestinian organization database. This is actually the Israeli state database. In other words, we had revealed information which Israeli state hold in archives computers and files and is refusing to release.
GRADSTEIN: According to the report, several of Israel's largest settlements, which the government says it intends to retain under any peace deal with the Palestinians, are built largely on private Palestinian land.
For example, some 86 percent of the largest West Bank settlement, Ma'ale Adummim, just a few miles east of Jerusalem with 30,000 residents is built on private land. One of the first settlements, Ofra, is built almost exclusively on private Palestinian land.
Israeli officials have said in the past that government policy is not to build on private Palestinian land but only on what is called state land, which either belonged to the Jordanian government before the 1967 Arab-Israeli War or was expropriated by Israel for security reasons.
Israeli government spokesman Muri Isan(ph) says the government will review the Peace Now report carefully and will then respond. She says the government remains committed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as envisioned by the U.S.-backed Roadmap to Peace.
Ms. MURI ISAN (Spokesperson, Israeli government): The vision of the present government and the government guidelines is a two-state solution that the Palestinian state and Israeli state and a viable Palestinian state with territorial continuity. This report comes in for us as something that we have to study and understand and just see what the impact will be on the vision itself.
GRADSTEIN: Etkes says Peace Now is demanding an investigation into how the decision to build on private land were made. Peace Now has already appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court to order the dismantlement of one settlement outpost that is built entirely on privately owned Palestinian land.
Linda Gradstein, NPR News. Jerusalem.
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