Israel stole private land for settlements: Report
JERUSALEM, Nov 22: Almost 40 per cent of land held by Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank is privately owned by Palestinians, a left-wing Israeli group that monitors and opposes settlement-building has said in a new report.
Peace Now said it based its findings on the database of Israel's military-run Civil Administration in the West Bank. The Civil Administration declined comment on the apparent leak, pending its examination of the report.
Israel has long maintained that Jewish settlements, which are illegal under international law, were built on ''state lands,'' or areas not registered in anyone's name, and that no private property were being seized for settlement building.
''This report is a harsh indictment against the whole settlements enterprise and the role all Israeli governments played in it,'' Peace Now said on its Web site.
''The report shows that Israel has effectively stolen privately-owned Palestinian land for the purpose of constructing settlements and in violation of Israel's own laws regarding activities in the West Bank,'' the movement said.
The Palestinians, who want all the West Bank along with the Gaza Strip for a future state, and human rights groups have long accused Israel of illegally expropriating ''state land'' for the purpose of building settlements.
According to the report, Palestinians privately own nearly 40 per cent of the land on which settlements have been built, and 3,400 buildings have been constructed on those properties.
In addition, more than 50 per cent of the land on which settlements have been constructed has been designated ''state'', or unregistered, land by Israel, Peace Now said.
About 2.4 million Palestinians and 260,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war but stopped short of annexing.
The YESHA settler council, responding to the Peace Now report, said in a statement Israel halted authorising construction on privately-owned land in the West Bank after a 1979 Israeli court ruling on the issue.
Peace Now said that in spite of court restrictions, Israel continued to build settlement homes on lands it knew to be owned by Palestinians.
Some of the settlement blocs Israeli leaders have said they intend to keep in any final peace deal with the Palestinians have been built in part on private Palestinian land, the report said.
They include the settlements of Maale Adumim, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, and Ariel in the central West Bank.
The World Court says settlements Israel has built on occupied territory are illegal. Israel disputes this.