Israel has built 50 percent more homes for Jewish settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories since the 1993 Oslo peace accord, thousands of them under Ehud Barak's government, the Israeli Peace Now organization said Monday.
"Since the Barak regime began 18 months ago, there were 3,500 land tenders published in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip," Gilad Benon, a Peace Now member, told a press conference in Jerusalem.
The pacifist group said the majority of Israelis were in favor of dismantling the settlements, which are seen as provocative to Palestinians and often the target of violence in the territories, now in the throes of a second Intifada or uprising against the Israeli occupation.
"People are more open, they are more worried and they are now asking why people are sending their children to a place where they will get killed and where it is not their home," said Arie Arnon, a Peace Now activist and chair of economics at Ben Gurion University.
In a critical report on Israeli settlement policy since 1993 -- when Israel implicitly agreed to freeze settlements under Oslo -- Peace Now said there had been a 52 percent growth in housing in the territories, with 32,750 new housing units built from September 1993 to July 2000.
A total of 2,830 were built during the Barak administration, which came to power in July 1999 after the defeat of the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu.
Peace Now said the figures were based on Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics.
"In all respects, except for cosmetic respects, Barak has continued Netanyahu's settlement policy," spokesman Didi Remez said.
Some 200,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, land captured by Israeli in war 33 years ago, and their fate is one of the key bones of contention in efforts to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Palestinian Authority regards all Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as violations of international law.
Last month, Peace Now revealed that the Israeli government had earmarked around 300 million dollars in next year's budget for the settlers.
Peace Now called on the government to "take the settlers back to Israel."
"We want to convince the settlers that the (settlement) project is a failure, and that they should come back to Israel proper with all the compensation and necessary arrangements," said Aviram Goldblum, head of Peace Now Settlement Watch team.
Many settlers are hardline religious nationalists who claim their right to live in the Palestinian territories as the biblical land of Israel – JERUSALEM (AFP)
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