08/09/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

First New West Bank Settlement in Ten Years?

"At this point a two-state solution is near impossible." Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC spoke with The Real News Network about her recent trip to Israel and Palestine.

Washington DC -- August 1 -- Is Israel about to build the first settlement in the West Bank in nearly a decade? The only hurdle that remains is final approval from Defense Minister Ehud Barak. According to the Israeli daily Maariv, the settler population in the West Bank grew by fifteen thousand last year. Settlements in the occupied territory are illegal under international law and Palestinian officials were quick to criticize the proposal. Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian negotiator said, "This is destroying the process of a two-state solution."

Phyllis Bennis, Senior Analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC who has just returned from the West Bank, says a viable two-state solution "is not already impossible" but it is "so close as to be virtually the same." The speed of deterioration in the region in the past two years, she says, is appalling. "The speed of settlement expansion, the speed of the creation of new apartheid roads throughout the occupied West Bank... The speed in which Palestinians are being squeezed into smaller and smaller territory, smaller lives, resulting in smaller and smaller identities, is proceeding at a pace that I found absolutely shocking."

The so-called apartheid wall, which is thought to be separating Israelis and Palestinians, is in reality separating Palestinians and creating more isolation in an already desolate situation: "You have some towns like the city of Qalqilia in the northern West Bank completely surrounded by the wall. The city next to it, a tiny little town, is also completely surrounded by the wall," Bennis says. "It's a very isolating kind of existence for those 40,000 people who live for example in the city of Qalqilia, once a market town right on the green line," where "Israelis and Palestinians mixed freely for years." It was a market centre for produce with rich agriculture. "In that town now, that's now completely surrounded by the wall, there is virtually no commerce in and out."

According to the United Nations, says Bennis, due to land appropriated for the wall, settlements, and areas declared closed military zones and green zones, "a full 60% of the land of the West Bank is now prohibited for Palestinian residential or commercial or agricultural use. It is now under Israeli military control. So what is up for negotiation is now only 40% of the land of the West Bank, which of course itself is only about 18% of historic Palestine."

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