An Israeli human rights group issued Tuesday a report stating that Jewish settlements cover more than 42 percent of the West Bank, most of which seized from Palestinian landowners.
The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, also called B'Tselem, said in its latest report that throughout the past 18 years, the West Bank landscape has undergone a radical transformation due to settlement expansions and which constitute a major obstacle to the peace process.
Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the report added, annexed large expanses of land beyond their original perimeters, usually under the pretext of natural growth. According to the report, many of those lands were private properties of Palestinians.
The findings of B'Tselem are congruent with the statements made earlier by activists about the illegal settlement expansion in defiance of a ruling by Israel’s Supreme Court and which banned annexation of Palestinian land in 1979.
The group said the report was based on official government documents, including military maps and a settlement database.
While Israeli officials made no comment, the report was slammed by settlers as politically motivated and B'Tselem was accused of trying to mar the visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the United States.
"It's a political report by an organization that has taken over the most radical anti-Israel elements," said Dani Dayan, chairman of the Settlers Council.
Netanyahu’s Tuesday meeting with U.S. President Barrack Obama should focus on the peace process and the freezing of settlement construction.
In response to Dayan’s accusations, B'Tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli said the report was prepared a month and half ago, a long time before Netanyahu’s visit to the United States was scheduled.
Dayan also disputed the figures in the B'Tselem and stressed that Israeli settlements control only 9.2 percent of the West Bank.
According to the report, the actual buildings cover only 1% of the West Bank, yet the councils and jurisdiction of the settlements extend to more than 42 percent.
According to the B'Tselem report, settlement population has tripled since 1993 from 110,000 to 301,200. An additional 180,000 live in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem along with Gaza in 1967. The three territories are expected to make up the future Palestinian state.