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Israeli construction booms in West Bank

Dec. 23, 2010 at 10:47 AM

EAST JERUSALEM, West Bank, Dec. 23 (UPI) -- Israeli West Bank settlement construction is booming three months after Israel ended its building freeze, possibly upsetting future peace talks, a group said.

At least 1,712 new housing units are being built -- some in remote areas that may not be part of Israel if a two-state peace deal is worked to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Peace Now said.

An additional 13,000 units have been approved, Peace Now told Ynetnews. By contrast, in each of the last three years only 3,000 housing units were built, the group said.

Settlement leaders did not contradict the Peace Now figures.

"The freeze is over -- we're catching up," Samaria Regional Council spokesman David Ha'Ivri in the northern West Bank told The New York Times.

"The Peace Now numbers are credible," he said. "The counting seems logical. The difference is we see this in a positive light while they see it in a negative light."

Palestinian leaders said in October they would not return to peace talks with Israel if settlement construction continued. Israeli leaders said the sooner talks get back on track, the sooner settlement issues and other disputes can be resolved.

The U.S. State Department has raised "concerns about settlement activity with the Israeli government," department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, told Ynetnews that since the 10-month building moratorium ended in September, Israel approved construction only in existing settlements, so the new construction would "not affect the peace borders in any way."

He told the Times it would "not in any way change the final map of peace."

Settlement opponents disagree, saying the larger the settler population, the more water, roads, security and other resources are needed -- and the harder it will be to get Israelis to agree to a Palestinian state, the Times said.

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