Israeli settlers see growth despite U.S. pressure
OFRA, West Bank |
OFRA, West Bank (Reuters) - Jewish settler Merav Gold is confident the red-roofed enclave she calls home in the occupied West Bank will continue to grow despite calls from U.S. President Barack Obama to freeze all settlement construction.
"I'm not worried at all," says Gold, a community organizer and religiously devout mother of eight in Ofra, one of the oldest of dozens of settlements Israel has built in the West Bank since capturing the territory in a 1967 war.
"The settlement won't grind to a halt, or disappear" if a building freeze is implemented, adds Gold, who has seen the United States back down for decades on demands to stop settlement building.
Controversy over the settlements is likely to be a key issue on the agenda when Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak meets Obama's envoy George Mitchell in Washington on Monday in search of a formula to renew stalled peace negotiations.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, risking a rare rift with Israel's largest ally, has resisted Obama's calls for freezing construction in the enclaves and argues some building must continue so that "normal life" may proceed.
Palestinians reject that argument as a ruse by Israel to create more facts on the ground and deny them enough land on which to build a viable state in the West Bank.
About 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in settlements deemed illegal by the World Court, a figure that has mushroomed from some tens of thousands in the past 20 years.
U.S. officials say Washington may make allowances for the completion of buildings still under construction in the settlements. But Israel wants to continue at least limited development to accommodate what some officials call the "natural growth" of a younger generation of settlers.
SETTLER WAITING LIST
Israeli officials point to verbal agreements they had reached with members of the former Bush administration to permit settlers to add storeys to existing buildings or extend homes as long as they remained within the bounds of their enclaves.
Peace activists have long accused Israel of using the "natural growth" rationale to vastly expand the settlements, adding yet more obstacles to Middle East peacemaking.
Israel has a "large arsenal of plans" for further settlement construction, though these have been put on hold recently, Housing Minister Ariel Attias told Israel Radio, alluding to the differences with Washington.
In Ofra, some settlers exuded confidence that the latest crisis with the U.S. over construction would subside and they would soon be able to continue building, just as they have for decades despite the objections of the world community.
Most settlers see the West Bank as a biblical birthright and also argue that the land is a vital security buffer for Israel. Many dismiss talk of establishing Palestinian statehood there as a long way off, citing a lack of serious negotiations and talks that have broken off in the past.
Gold says at least 40 families, including her eldest son, are on a waiting list to purchase homes in Ofra, where she says no new structures have been put up in about a year, and construction had already slowed beforehand.
Hundreds of others have applied in the past year for permission to buy a home in the settlement, Gold says. "We do live with a great deal of uncertainty, but our faith is strong."
Some of those waiting for homes have moved temporarily into a former Jordanian army barracks or caravans that once housed Ofra's original settlers back in 1974.
Trailer dweller Dorit Brenner, 27, a mother of two toddlers, said she has been waiting for five years to build a home.
"We do worry what is going to become of us. But we figure some sort of solution will be found with the Americans, and we will just continue to wait until they let us build," she says.
- Tweet this
- Share this
- Digg this