Page last updated at 16:42 GMT, Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Peace Now: West Bank building 'more than in Israel'

Settlers and police clash in the West Bank

More homes are under construction per inhabitant in the occupied West Bank than inside Israel despite recent curbs on construction, says Peace Now.

The rights group said 1,167 homes were being built for every 100,000 West Bank settlers, compared to just 836 for the same number of Israeli residents.

The Palestinians have refused to return to peace talks without a total halt to building in settlements.

Settlers are beginning to arrive at a protest against the construction pause.

Palestinians say the new Israeli policy of restraint in building on the land they want for a future state does not go far enough.

But Israeli settlers have been angered by the move, made under US pressure, by the right-leaning government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

'No basis in reality'

Under the new Israeli policy, permits for new homes in the West Bank will not be approved for 10 months.

But municipal buildings and about 3,000 homes already under construction will still be allowed to go ahead.

Settlers protest near West Bank town of Nablus

Scuffles have erupted in the past week as Israeli settlers held protests and tried to block building inspectors from entering their communities to enforce the new rules.

But, on the basis of the official figures, Peace Now said "the settler's claims of discrimination and attempts to 'dry out' the settlements have no basis in reality".

"Even during the freeze a larger number of housing units than the national average will be built in the occupied territories," it said.

Israeli politicians and media have been referring to the restrictions as a "freeze", although Palestinians say they are far from the total building halt, including in East Jerusalem, that they have demanded.

Settler groups have begun to arrive for a rally outside Mr Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem on Wednesday to protest against the curbs.

The BBC's Paul Wood in Jerusalem says the settlers feel betrayed by a government they thought was on their side.

Israel could just be acting tactically, trying to make the Palestinians look like the roadblock to negotiations, our correspondent says.

But even so, he adds, the Israeli government may have to choose between peace with the Palestinians or peace with the settlers.

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