New figure is double the 2008 estimate; quarter of Palestinians living in areas under full Israeli control reside in Jerusalem district.
by Amira Hass 5 March 2014 Haaretz
Some 300,000 Palestinians live in Area C, the part of the West Bank under full Israeli control, according to new data published Tuesday by a UN body. That figure is considerably higher than 150,000 to 180,000 Palestinians said to live in the area, according to a 2008 estimate by the Israeli NGO, Bimkom, Planners for Planning Rights.
The new estimate, published by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in occupied Palestinian territory (OCHA), concludes that there are 297,000 residents living in 532 residential areas in Area C, which is under full Israeli civil and security control, and which comprises just over 60 percent of the West Bank. There are 67,016 Palestinians living in 241 communities and villages which are entirely in Area C. Of these 51 are villages and cities with most of their built-up area in Area C , with the rest in Areas A (under Palestinian control) and B (under shared Israeli-Palestinian control); 240 residential areas are cities and villages with less than half of their land in C.
The Palestinian population in Area C is considered to be especially vulnerable and in need of international assistance because of limited access to educational and health-care institutions, harassment by settlers, proximity to firing zones and insufficient connection to water and electricity infrastructure. The population was a special target of the 2014-2016 Strategic Response Plan of the humanitarian community in the occupied Palestinian territory, a group of international aid organizations, primarily European ones.
The OCHA figures are also included in an updated report on Area C by delegations of the European Union countries in East Jerusalem and Ramallah. It was sent about two weeks ago to EU decision makers in Brussels, an EU source told Haaretz. It is based on a report from two and a half years ago, in which the European representatives criticized the Israeli policy of discrimination in Area C, which allows the construction of settlements and forbids Palestinian construction in the most of the area. The report also described the trend of evicting Palestinian communities from their homes as forced uprooting, which is forbidden according to international law.
The source told Haaretz that for the EU the political importance of Area C has never been dependent on the number of residents, “but on guaranteeing the territorial contiguity of the Palestinian state, and the territory earmarked for it according to UN decisions. So that as far as we’re concerned, it makes no difference whether the number of residents is 300,000 or half of that or less.”
The artificial administrative division into Areas A, B and C was set in the 1995 interim agreement, part of the Oslo Accords, and was supposed to be terminated after about five years. Until 2000 the size of the areas has changed several times. Since 2000 there has been no change in the size of Area C, which comprises 61 percent of the area of the West Bank.
About 18 percent of the area of the West Bank is defined as a closed military area designated for military training, while the size of Area A, which is under Palestinian civilian and policing authority, comprises 17.7 percent of the West Bank. There are 38 communities (with about 6,200 residents) whose source of livelihood is herding and agriculture, who live within the firing zones. Many of them were there even before the area was defined as a firing zone. In addition to the danger to their lives, the residents are also subject to temporary evacuation orders from the Israel Defense Forces.
OCHA has mapped 183 residential areas that are communities of Bedouin and shepherds, with a population of slightly over 30,000. About 27 percent of the entire population in Area C are registered as refugees, whose families were expelled from their original homes after 1948.
Eighty seven percent of the area of the Jordan Valley is defined as Area C. The Jordan Valley itself takes up almost a third of the area of the West Bank. Israel’s policy of limiting the number of Palestinian residents there began long before the Oslo Accords, when extensive firing zones and nature reserves were set aside there. Outside the city of Jericho, which is defined as Area A, there are 68 Palestinian residential communities in Area C in the Jordan Valley, with about 18,000 residents, 42 percent of them registered as refugees. In the Jordan Valley there are 37 Jewish settlements, with about 9,500 residents.
According to OCHA estimates, the Jerusalem district has the largest number of Palestinians living in Area C - about 74,000; another 67,000 Palestinians in Area C live in the Hebron area. According to OCHA, 18,000 of the 60,000 residents of El Bireh live in neighborhoods in Area C. When Haaretz expressed surprise at this large number and other large numbers of residents of cities and villages living in neighborhoods in Area C, OCHA replied that in all the places where the estimate was higher than 3,000 people in one residential area - they conducted another investigation to confirm the figure.
The data collection was carried out by OCHA teams between June and September 2013, in cooperation with the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics and with the Ministry of Local Government and its elected representatives in the communities. The work was based on the distribution of questionnaires, cross-referencing the figures with aerial photographs and figures for water and electricity consumption, as well as a comparison of the data with that of the Central Bureau of Statistics. One of the reasons for this investigation by OCHA is that Palestinian Authority population censuses failed to relate to the artificial administrative division of the interim agreement.
Israeli settlement construction doubles in 2013
By Aron Helle 3 March , 2014 The Associated Press
Israel began building more than twice as many West Bank settlement homes in 2013 than it did the previous year, Israel's central bureau of statistics said Monday, just hours before its prime minster was to face President Barack Obama in Washington for what was expected to be a tense meeting.
In Gaza, meanwhile, Israel launched an airstrike that killed a Palestinian militant, officials and his family said.
The two leaders have been at odds over Israel's settlement policies on war-won land, and the announcement looked to complicate matters weeks before an initial April target date for reaching the outline of an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.
In its annual roundup of the Israeli housing market, the bureau said work began on 2,534 new housing units in the settlements in 2013, compared to 1,133 in 2012. Nationally, Israel had a 3.4 percent increase in housing starts over the same period.
The Palestinians seek the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip — territories captured by Israel in 1967 — for an independent state. The Palestinians consider settlements build beyond the pre-1967 lines to be illegal and an obstacle to peace. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to recognize these lines as a starting point, saying final borders should be agreed in negotiations.
Palestinian official Nabil Shaath condemned the construction, saying the "settlement activities have made negotiations worthless." He said the surge had angered Palestinians and called for a "complete cessation of settlement construction."
More than 550,000 Israelis now live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. The Palestinians, along with the international community, consider settlements illegal or illegitimate. European and American leaders have warned Israel recently that settlements are causing increased isolation for Israel.
In a published interview, Obama said he would personally appeal for Netanyahu to move forward on peace talks with the Palestinians.
"I believe that (Netanyahu) is strong enough that if he decided this was the right thing to do for Israel, that he could do it," Obama said in an interview with Bloomberg View. "If he does not believe that a peace deal with the Palestinians is the right thing to do for Israel, then he needs to articulate an alternative approach. And as I said before, it's hard to come up with one that's plausible."
After two decades of intermittent negotiations, including nearly five years of deadlock following Netanyahu's return to power in 2009, the United States relaunched peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians last July. The sides agreed to a nine-month target for forging a final peace deal.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has traveled to the region more than 10 times for meetings with Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He has also talked to them on the phone repeatedly. But with no signs of breakthrough, Kerry has been forced to scale back his objectives.
The initial goal of a final deal by April was later replaced by more modest U.S. aspirations of brokering the contours of an agreement. In recent weeks, there were expectations that Kerry would present his own ideas for such a framework, with Abbas and Netanyahu agreeing to continue talks for up to a year on that basis.
But the gaps between Abbas and Netanyahu remain wide, and it's not certain Kerry will present a framework in such conditions.
Abbas is scheduled to visit the White House on March 17.
The Palestinians have demanded that Israel agree to base the final borders with a future Palestine on the pre-1967 lines, with small land swaps that would allow Israel to keep some of its settlements.
Netanyahu wants to retain an Israeli presence in a strategic area of the West Bank along the border with Jordan and keep large blocs of settlements closest to Israel. He has given no indication as to how much territory he is willing to cede and he has rejected any division of east Jerusalem, the Palestinians' hoped-for capital.
Netanyahu has also demanded that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.
Netanyahu is facing intense international pressure to begin making concessions. The international community has shown growing impatience with Israeli settlements on lands claimed by the Palestinians. Domestically, his government has come under fire for continuing to build in the West Bank when there is a dire shortage of housing in Israel proper.
Shortly before Netanyahu was set to meet with Obama, the Israeli military said it carried out an airstrike in Gaza against Palestinian militants preparing to launch rockets at Israel.
The military said the strike was conducted in order to "to eliminate an imminent attack targeting civilian communities of southern Israel."
Gaza Health official Ashraf Al Kedra said a 21-year-old man was killed and two others wounded in the strike Monday night. The family of the man killed said he belonged to the Islamic Jihad group, which often fires rockets at Israel.
123 percent rise in new settlement construction in 2013, new stats show
by Elior Levy 3 March 2014 Ynet news
At the same time, however, the Central Bureau of Statistics released figures pointing to a massive increase of roughly 120 percent in settlement construction within the future Palestinian state's territory. As long as this is the situation, one can understand why Abbas and his men refuse to join the dance – and one can equally understand why American President Barack Obama's remarks Monday evening contained a strong whiff of despair.
The data shows that there was a growth of 123.7 percent in "dwellings begun" in Judea and Samaria in 2013, comprising some 5.7 percent of all new construction by Israel last year.
According to the CBS data, Israel started construction on 2,534 housing units in Judea and Samaria, compared to 1,133 housing units
n 2012. On the other hand, there was a dramatic 19 percent drop in the number of housing units built in the Tel Aviv area.
In 2013 there was a 12 percent rise in the number of housing units Israel started building in southern Israel, and an eight percent rise in the Haifa area. There was only a one percent rise in northern Israel, while the Jerusalem area saw a 3.4 percent rise.
In total, the number of housing units Israel has started building rose 3.4 percent compared to 2012.
Of Israel's total population of 8,000,000, some 350,000 - roughly 4.4 percent of the population - live in the West Bank.
The release of the information comes as the US is reportedly putting pressure on Israel to reduce or partially freeze its construction in the West Bank. The Palestinians have repeatedly expressed their opposition to the building of settlements by Israel, saying it impairs their chances of establishing a territorially contiguous state in the area.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government insists that the construction has no real impact on the peace talks, but US President Barack Obama, who was due to meet with the Israeli leader at the White House on Monday, made clear that he disagreed.
"Now it's official. The Netanyahu government is only committed to one thing: settlement construction," Peace Now director Yariv Oppenheimer said after the CBS report was published.
"They're unimpressed by neither the diplomatic process nor the housing problem. Israel's resources and public construction are turned to areas way beyond the Green Line," he added.
Netanyahu left Israel on Sunday for a five-day trip to the US. On Monday, he will meet with Obama at the White House, and on Tuesday he will deliver a keynote speech at the annual policy conference of pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, also in Washington DC.
Speaking to journalist Jeffrey Goldberg of Bloomberg, the president said that, "We have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple years than we’ve seen in a very long time,” Obama said.