Israeli settlements have grown during the Obama years

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jerusalem—In his landmark speech to the Arab world seven years ago, President Barack Obama warned that Israeli settlements on occupied territories were undermining hopes for peace. “It is time for these settlements to stop,” he declared.
As Obama heads into the home stretch of his presidency, he leaves behind an unfulfilled vision. Not only did he fail to stop it, but he watched Israeli construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem thrive — despite repeated White House condemnations.
According to Israeli government data obtained by The Associated Press, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed a wave of construction during the Obama presidency that matched, and even exceeded, the amount of building that took place under his predecessors during the Bush years.
The figures show the limits of U.S. influence over its close ally and a reluctance to link financial support to Israel with policy differences. Despite the Israeli defiance over settlements and a long history of friction between Obama and Netanyahu, the two countries signed a deal this week giving Israel $38 billion in U.S. military aid over 10 years, the largest deal of its kind in American history.
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official, said the Obama presidency has been a disappointment for her people. After the promise of his 2009 speeches in Egypt and Turkey pledging to build bridges with the Muslim world, “it’s been downhill since then,” she said.
Ashrawi said she was “not surprised at all” by the figures and dismissed U.S. criticism as lip service. “They did nothing to stop it. On the contrary, they looked the other way.”
The settlement figures, obtained from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, show that 12,288 new settlement buildings were started in the West Bank during Obama’s term up to June 30, the most recent data available.
In the first half of 2016 alone, work began on 1,195 housing units, figures released this week showed.
Based on that pace of construction, the number could well exceed 13,000 housing units by the time Obama leaves office, not far behind the 14,636 begun during Bush’s two terms.
Figures for east Jerusalem, where the Palestinians hope to establish their capital, show a similar story.
According to data gathered by the anti-settlement watchdog group Peace Now, there were 3,915 housing starts during Obama’s term as of the end of 2015. Based on recent trends, by the time Obama leaves office that number will almost certainly surpass the 4,191 units started during the Bush years.
Obama did manage to coax Israel into a partial settlement freeze in 2009 and 2010, briefly slowing down construction. In addition, much of the construction has been confined to major “blocs” and areas of Jerusalem that Israel expects to keep under any future peace deal. But to Palestinians, these distinctions make no difference.
Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem, along with the Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Mideast war. —AP