In the lead-up to his first ever visit to the Middle East as President of the U.S., George W. Bush stated Friday that he is encouraging Israel to take down what he called 'illegal outposts' on Palestinian land in the West Bank. All Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land are considered illegal under international law, but Bush is apparently accepting the Israeli government's definition, which defines some of the colonies as 'legal' under Israeli law, and some 'illegal'. In 2005, George Bush sent a letter to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, stating that the U.S. supported Sharon's policy of settlement expansion in the West Bank. Since then, the Israeli government has stepped up its campaign of seizing Palestinian land, forcing the inhabitants from the land, building walls to keep them out, and moving Israelis onto the newly-seized land.
Israeli settlements house 500,000 Israelis, many of them new immigrants. A recent study found that the Israeli military enforces less than ten percent of the demolition orders issued by Israeli courts for settlements that the courts deem illegal. In this way, and through the expansion of settlements that the Israeli government considers 'legal', the expansion of settlements on illegally seized Palestinian land continues at a rapid pace.
Bush told Reuters that settlement expansion was an "impediment" to the diplomatic efforts. "I will talk about Israeli settlement expansion, about how that is, that can be, you know, an impediment to success," he said. "The unauthorized outposts, for example, need to be dismantled, like the Israelis said they would do."
There is no evidence, however, that Bush's rhetoric would be followed by any concrete steps, as similar statements have been made in the past, while Israeli settlements have been allowed to continue to expand.