Israeli Peaceniks, Settlers Spar over Building in the West Bank

New settlements are sprouting in the West Bank, according to a recent survey taken by Peace Now.

Twenty-five new settlements have been built since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon won the election in February 2001, according to a survey by the activist group.

But according to the Yesha Council, which represents settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, no new settlements have been built since Sharon’s election, only temporary hilltop enclaves. These hilltop settlements are generally used for security reasons or in reaction to a settler murder, said a Yesha spokeswoman.

“When Peace Now sees one of these temporary units that are usually up for the 30 days of mourning after someone has been killed, they call it a settlement,” she said. “But it’s just a ploy by them to get more people on their side.”

For Peace Now, the seeming proliferation of new settlements is an obstacle to any future peace agreement with the Palestinians, and to Israeli security.

“The Sharon government, with the backing of the Labor Party, is continuing the settlement policy in the territories,” said Arie Arnon, a Peace Now activist. “This settlement policy also jeopardizes Israel’s position in the new world constellation formed in the wake of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.”

On Oct. 7, a break-off settler group inaugurated a new hilltop outside the Kedumim settlement, one of the first communities over the Green Line, located near the Palestinian city of Nablus.

Four families and two single women are living on the hilltop — now named Har Hemed — located less than a mile away from Kedumim.

According to Daniella Weiss, head of the Kedumim local council, the Gush Emunim settlement group plans on establishing 12 new communities to symbolize the 12 tribes of Israel, in memory of murdered settler Gilad Zar, and in order to increase morale in the “Raise the Banner to Zion” campaign.

Peace Now activists demonstrated outside the settler ceremony, but were prevented from entering Kedumim.

“Bring the settlers home,” read the signs held by the demonstrators. “Down with Occupation.”

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