Israel seizes more Arab land

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The Independent Online
FROM his hilltop enclave, Shlomo Kattan has a view of the future, and the view is of Israel, as far as the eye can see.

Mr Kattan is mayor of Alfe Menasheh, a sparkling Jewish settlement built on a rocky ridge about two miles inside the Israeli- occupied West Bank. Looking to the west, down across the coastal plain, he sees pink roofs sprawling either side of the old 'Green Line' that once marked the division between Israel and the West Bank lands captured in 1967.

Looking north, south and east Mr Kattan sees more Jewish settlements, crowding strategic hilltops. On the hillsides are Arab villages, clusters of tumble-down houses ringed by settler highways.

Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, would like to believe that the Green Line is still there, and will soon mark out the western boundary of a Palestinian state.

Unlike Mr Kattan, however, Mr Arafat, confined to his Gaza enclave, cannot see what is happening on the ground.

The Oslo Declaration of Principles states that in the interim period of autonomy, before the final status of the land is discussed, the integrity of the West Bank and Gaza will be preserved. However, the evidence of building shows that Israel is using the interim period to ensure that Mr Arafat's future territory is too stunted to comprise a viable state.

The Israeli government has just endorsed a programme of new land seizures along the old Green Line running up to six miles into the West bank side. A tranch of the West Bank is being carved out either side of a so-called trans-Samaria highway, to create a corridor that one day will link Tel Aviv with Amman.

A flank of settlements extending up to 12 miles outside the centre of Jerusalem is being reinforced. A network of highways and tunnels connecting Jewish areas is also being built.

Before the Oslo accords were signed, the Israeli government controlled about 65 per cent of the land in the West Bank. Now, according to estimates of Palestinian geographers, it holds 73 per cent. The number of settlers living in the occupied territories may be as high as 140,000 - 12,000 more than last year.

While Israeli building has continued, new planning restrictions have been imposed by Israeli military authorities on Arab villages in the West Bank, stopping villagers from building on their own land. The villagers of Rasatiyeh cannot build outside an Israeli-imposed boundary around the built- up areas. The settlement of Alfe Menasheh is about to start constructing 845 houses on land near to Rasatiyeh, that the villagers say is theirs.

As the children of Rasatiyeh walk the three miles to their nearest school, they pass close enough to Alfe Menasheh to hear the settler children splashing in their new swimming pool.

Geographical logic suggests that Israel is planning to grant autonomy to Palestinians in the three so-called cantons based around Arab cities: Nablus to the north, Ramallah in the centre and Hebron to the south. A report prepared by the Arab Studies Centre in Jerusalem, based on information from Israeli military administrators, was presented 10 days ago to Mr Arafat.

The report shows that since the signing of the Oslo accords, a total of 16,750 acres of West Bank land has been confiscated by Israel, of which 1,885 acres have been built on while the rest is being held for future settlement.

In the same period, 14,111 fruit trees have been uprooted to make way for roads and new building. Six square miles of land have been confiscated and given over to quarries and four and a half square miles of land have been allocated for nature reserves.

The report also shows that inside annexed east Jerusalem, the equivalent of one square mile has been confiscated for new roads linking settlements. Plans are in place to confiscate 955 acres of land at settlements near the old Green Line and new building plans have been approved at Alfe Menasheh and other settlements.

In theory, all such settlement activity should trigger US aid penalties to Israel. But Washington has made no public criticism of the new settlements and has imposed only token penalties.