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Settlement dispute in the Middle East

'Israeli settlements are not an obstacle for peace'

The Israeli government has approved thousands of new housing units in settlements in the West Bank despite a recent UN resolution calling for a halt to building. DW visited the settlement of Efrat to speak to its mayor.

Watch video 26:01

Oded Revivi on Conflict Zone

Settlements are one of the most contentious issues between Israelis and Palestinians.

There are currently more than half-a-million Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

According to the Israeli advocacy group Peace Now, more than 130 settlements have been officially established in the West Bank since 1967, along with more than 90 outposts, which were built without government approval.

Infografik Siedlungen im Westjordanland ENGLISCH

Palestinians argue settlements, along with Israeli-only roads, security barriers and military checkpoints, threaten the viability of a two-state solution.

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah told Conflict Zone in early 2016 that the "expansion of settlements on a daily basis kills the viability of a Palestinian state."

Most countries across the world view settlement building on Palestinian land as a violation of international law.

In December 2016, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution that said the establishment of settlements in Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, had "no legal validity" and "constituted a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the vision of two states living side-by-side in peace and security." 

It called for an immediate halt to all settlement building.

Likelihood of a two-state solution diminishing

Yet, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu labeled the UN call "shameful" and just a month later his government announced a major settlement expansion in the West Bank.

They approved thousands of new housing units in settlements in the West Bank, such as Efrat, an Israeli settlement located about 15 kilometers south of Jerusalem between Bethlehem and Hebron. The settlement is home to about 8,500 people.

Its mayor, Oded Revivi, who is also Chief Foreign Envoy for The Yesha Council that represents settlers, told DW's Conflict Zone that settlements are not an obstacle to peace.

He blamed the Palestinians for blocking the peace process and said the likelihood of a two-state solution is diminishing. According to Revivi, Israel and Palestine are "moving farther and farther away from a two-state solution with every day that passes."

Revivi said it was time to look for a third option.

We don't destroy any Palestinian homes'

When confronted with an international backlash to Israel's settlement building and asked why he thinks so many countries backed the recent United Nations' resolution that condemned Israeli settlements as "illegal", Revivi said it is because these critics "don't see the reality."

"Some of them are biased and some of them are prejudiced. And some of them have changed their opinions after they've come here," he said. 

According to the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem, Israel's Civil Administration demolished 20 homes and 13 other structures in Palestinian communities in the West Bank within a week and a half in August 2016, leaving 53 people, including 25 minors, homeless.

Confronted with these numbers and asked what kind of government destroys homes where children are living to throw them out onto the street, Revivi said: "That sounds heartbreaking, but…"

Tim Sebastian: "But what?"

Oded Revivi: "You have to understand. You have to ask yourself whether these houses were built on land which is owned by these private individuals, whether these houses were built with building permits or by using children as prisoners in these acts of illegal building."

Conflict Zone Dreh mit Oded Revivi (DW)

Conflict Zone traveled to the settlement of Efrat in the West Bank to talk to Efrat's mayor, Oded Revivi

Tim Sebastian: "Families using children as prisoners? Children tend to live with their families, Mr. Revivi. Maybe they do in your settlement as well. And you call that being held prisoner?"

Oded Revivi: "Tim I have seen your shows, you are an intelligent person. Don't undermine the other side; they have used hospitals to launch missiles from."

Tim Sebastian: "We are not talking about that. We are talking about you bulldozing Palestinian homes where children are living and throwing children onto the street and I am asking: Don't you ever have a twinge of guilt about that sort of situation?  Doesn't it ever give you pause for thought?"

Oded Revivi "I didn't realize you were so dramatic."

Tim Sebastian: "The situation is dramatic, Mr. Revivi."

Will Israel get 'unconditional' backing from President Trump?

The Obama administration had pressured Israel to freeze the building of additional settlements, over fears they could derail hopes of a negotiated two-state solution.

But new US President Donald Trump has pledged strong support for Israel, and his aides are more sympathetic to the settlement plan.

Revivi, who attended the inauguration of Donald Trump, was asked whether he thought there would be a change in US settlement policy.

"There is going to be a meeting in the beginning of February between the new elected President and the Israeli Prime Minister," Revivi answered. "Understandings will be reached, agreements will be reached and then we'll be able to know what's going to be the policy of this new administration."

Since Trump's inauguration, the Israeli government made four announcements to construct more settlement homes in the West Bank, the latest just yesterday.

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