West Bank policy 'not aiding peace'
31 August 2007
By SHARMILA DEVI
Israeli infrastructure that divides the West Bank and confines 2.5m Palestinians to enclaves does not provide a basis for a two-state solution to the conflict, said a United Nations report yesterday.
The critical report* from the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs comes as diplomatic efforts are expected to pick up pace amid what Michael Williams, the UN's outgoing Middle East co-ordinator, calls "signs of hope".
Mr Williams also pointed to the Jewish settlements in his final briefing to the UN Security Council on Wednesday before taking up his post as envoy for Gordon Brown, the UK prime minister. "Settlement activity undermines hope for a contiguous Palestinian state," he said.
Almost 40 per cent of the West Bank is off-limits to Palestinians because of Israeli settlements, military infrastructure and a system of roads designed to ease access for Jewish settlers, justified by Israel as protection from terrorism.
The report says: "These measures are also intimately linked to maintaining settler access and their quality of life."
Israel took the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in 1967. Settlements are deemed illegal under international law, but about 450,000 Jewish settlers now live in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Settlers left Gaza in 2005.
The West Bank closely resembles Israeli proposals first made after the 1967 war in terms of infrastructure and territory for Palestinians. Restrictions have tightened since the intifada uprising began in 2000 via the enclave system and the building of a barrier.
A US-sponsored Middle East conference is due to be held in November, although little has been decided yet.
Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister, came to power promising pull-outs from the West Bank but was left badly weakened by last year's Lebanon war. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, lost control in Gaza when the Islamic movement Hamas seized power inJune.
Nonetheless, Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, and Tony Blair, the new international Middle East envoy, are due in the region next month to nudge both sides towards progress.
Observers say MrWilliams, as British envoy, may have more leeway to push for a peace dealthan Mr Blair, who would have to take his lead from the US.
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