The following is a report issued this week by the Catholic relief agency, Caritas:
Today, Israel issued tenders for 690 new settlement units around
occupied East Jerusalem. Meanwhile, the months-long Israeli assault on
Gaza continued while the humanitarian crisis there intensified.

Chief Palestinian Negotiator Dr Saeb Erekat denounced the new tenders as "perverse assaults on human dignity." He emphasized that "Israel restricts the internal movement of 2.4 million Christian and Muslim Palestinians [in the occupied West Bank] so that 430,000 Israeli settlers can roam free." Mr Erekat continued: "In South Africa, they had a name for this."

All of Israel's settlements are illegal under international law, which the International Court of Justice unanimously reaffirmed on July 9, 2004. The World Bank and the United Nations identify the restrictions on Palestinian movement, including to and from Gaza, as the main cause of the humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory. Now, nearly two-thirds of Palestinians live in poverty, up from 50% in 2005.

Today's tenders could house as many as 2,800 new settlers in two of the West Bank's largest settlements, Ma'ale Adumim and Beitar Illit. Mr. Erekat stressed that these two settlements "could spell the end of the Two-State Solution."

Mr. Erekat explained that: "a viable Palestinian state is an essential component of a lasting and viable two-state solution. Yet Ma'ale Adumim and Beitar Illit seize valuable lands and resources while fracturing the economic centre and cultural heart of any potentially viable Palestinian state, Metropolitan East Jerusalem."

Along with Ramallah and Bethlehem, occupied East Jerusalem constitutes a metropolitan unit known as "Metropolitan East Jerusalem." Historically, Metropolitan East Jerusalem accounted for 30 to 40% of all the economic activity in the West Bank and Gaza Strip combined. Now, Israel prevents most Palestinians from accessing East Jerusalem.

Mr Erekat suggested that events in Gaza could be explained by Israel's desires for key sections of the West Bank, especially East Jerusalem, asserting that Israel might be exploiting the situation in Gaza to distract the world from settlement activity in the West Bank. "The recent assault on Gaza began long before the capture of the Israeli soldier. Israel is, and has been, suffocating Gaza to seize Jerusalem."

He said: "Gaza has been shelled relentlessly for months. It is the world's largest prison, with every good, person, and drop of water entering or leaving Gaza ultimately subject to Israeli control. And Israel wonders why people are angry? Let us breathe. We want to be free too."