Ed O\'loughlin
The Sydney Morning Herald
January 8, 2008 - 6:11pm

THE Israeli Government has told a court that it does not want to reveal the true extent of Jewish settlement in the occupied Palestinian territories because the information would damage its image abroad, a local newspaper has reported.

The news comes on the eve of the arrival of the US President, George Bush, for a three-day state visit in which the settlement issue is likely to figure.

Last week Mr Bush said that Israeli settlement building in the West Bank was an obstacle to peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The office of the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, has said that during the visit he would again commit Israel to removing some of the smaller and newer settlements.

The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz said the Israeli Defence Ministry, which rules the Arab territories seized by Israel in 1967, is resisting a petition from two Israeli rights groups for the publication of an official report showing the extent of settlement is greater than Israel has previously admitted.

The newspaper said that the report showed both veteran settlements and newer "outposts" had been built extensively without legal permits on land deemed as state land by the Israeli military courts and on the private property of local Palestinians.

Last week the Government asked the Israeli High Court to ban the publication of the report "for fear of harming state security and foreign relations".

One of the petitioners, Peace Now, said Israel had built 122 settlements in the West Bank with official state sanction. Another 100 newer settlements - described as outposts of older settlements following Israel's commitment not to build new settlements - were built without official sanction.

An officially-commissioned report by the lawyer Talia Sasson found in 2005 that many of these settlements were built with funding and the active assistance of various government bodies, often in contravention of Israel's law.

The International Court of Justice and many other countries regard all Jewish settlement in the occupied territories as illegal, citing provisions in the Geneva Conventions which forbid the forced transfer of populations into lands seized in war.

Israel argues that the term "forced" refers to the settlers, not the indigenous people, and that its activities are legal because its settlers move to the West Bank of their own free will.

Peace Now said the number of Jewish settlers living in the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem, had almost trebled to 270,000 since Israel signed the Oslo peace accords in 1993. Another 180,000 Israelis live in parts of the West Bank annexed by Israel as part of its self-declared East Jerusalem territory.

Mr Bush's attempt to revive the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace protest at Annapolis two months ago is already faltering in the face of Palestinian protests at Israel's subsequent decision to build hundreds of new homes for Jews in East Jerusalem.


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