West Bank Settlers Vow To Continue Building In an effort to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, the Obama administration is calling for a halt to expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. But settlers insist that diplomatic efforts won't deter them. And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new government is not inclined to impose a moratorium.
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West Bank Settlers Vow To Continue Building

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West Bank Settlers Vow To Continue Building

West Bank Settlers Vow To Continue Building

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

This week when Israel's prime minister met President Obama, the president called for an end to Israeli settlement in the West Bank. Today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeated the U.S. position.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): We made it very clear to Prime Minister Netanyahu, as you know, when he was here, that our government favors a two-state solution. That is the goal of our efforts, what we are working toward. And the president was explicit in calling for a stop to the settlements.

NORRIS: Benjamin Netanyahu heads a largely right-wing government, a government in favor of expanding Jewish settlements. Still, pressure is mounting on him to enforce a freeze on settlement growth. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro traveled to the West Bank, and she sent us this story.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: The settlement of Kiryat Arba spreads over the tops of several stark brown hills of the West Bank. Once through iron gates, well-tended houses with red tile roofs are laid out in neat rows. Communities like this have become one of the central points of contention in the Middle East peace process. But while the governments in Washington and Israel tussle over the issue, Elyakim Haetzni, a German-born 82-year-old former lawyer and one of the founders of the settler movement, says that he is unconcerned. Despite an Israeli ban on the construction of new settlements, Haetzni says the reality is existing West Bank settlements are expanding.

Mr. ELYAKIM HAETZNI: There is no freeze. You know that there is no freeze. We are building all the time.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says in Judea and Samaria, what the settlers call the West Bank, the Jewish population has been growing.

Mr. HAETZNI: In all those years of so-called freeze, the growth in population in Judea and Samaria was two or three times more than in any other part of the country.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's something settlers like Haetzni and Israel's anti-occupation groups agree on. Hagit Ofran monitors settlement growths for the Israeli activist group Peace Now.

Ms. HAGIT OFRAN (Peace Now): There was never a real settlement freeze. And unfortunately in the last year, starting, I believe, in the end of 2007, there is an increase in the settlement expansion. In general, they build a lot and there are a lot of new settlers every year coming to live in the West Bank.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Settler groups contend that a settlement freeze would limit their ability to expand their communities, stopping children who grew up on settlements from building homes next to their parents, for example. But recent figures from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics belie that. They show that pressure on settlement housing comes from migration from Israel to settlement communities, where housing is often cheaper. In Nokdim, where Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman lives, settlers say there is a waiting list of up to 50 families eager to move there.

Ms. SUSIE COHEN: People all the time calling to check if there are houses to come and see. More people are moving in here regularly.

NAVARRO: Susie Cohen lives in Nokdim with her husband and four children. She says a new road that shortens the drive to Jerusalem was opened up recently, which has made the settlement more attractive for commuters. Michal Kupinski organizes cultural events in Nokdim. She says the settlement is now home to 170 families and it could be even bigger. She says Nokdim is a vibrant community that is home to people from over a dozen countries, secular and religious, and it deserves to grow more.

Ms. MICHAL KUPINSKI (Cultural Event Organiser, Nokdim): The community could use new energies and new people. And there's beautiful things happening here within the community. And a lot of people want to be part of it, and it's a pity that they can't.

NAVARRO: Back in Kiryat Arba, Elyakim Haetzni says that is true that settlements are growing, but it's also true that Israeli restrictions have limited that growth.

Mr. HAETZNI: Both are true. If there were no freeze, we would have built three, four times more. And yet, the other thing is also true - it is not a freeze. I can give you an example, Kiryat Arba, we brought recently 20 caravans. And then we have places, I won't tell you where, where houses were built illegally.

NAVARRO: He says even if Prime Minister Netanyahu accedes to Washington's demands to stop settlement expansion, on the ground, settlements will slowly continue to get bigger.

Mr. HAETZNI: The authorities are fed up. They have no money. They have no forces to waste on this. Anything they destroy is built again. The government doesn't have the power to prevent it.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Kiryat Arba.

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