Israel’s settlement drive becoming irreversible

Mitzpe Yericho—West Bank – In the hills east of Jerusalem, overlooking the Palestinian city of Jericho and the Jordan Valley, stands a religious Jewish settlement whose red-tile roofs, neat gardens and brightly colored playgrounds give the sense of permanence.
Mitzpe Yericho has stood on this escarpment, close to the Dead Sea – the lowest point on earth – since 1978, one of more than 230 settlements Israelis have built on occupied land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem over the past half-century.
Diplomats and international monitors are increasingly concerned that the drive, which has seen Israel settle more than half a million of its people at a cost of tens of billions of dollars, may be reaching the point of irreversibility. The ongoing expansion further diminishes the prospect of any significant progress being made when foreign ministers from 20 countries meet in Paris this week to discuss how to revive Middle East peace efforts, given the settlements have been a central obstacle for at least two decades.
If a peace deal were magically struck tomorrow, the Palestinians would expect the Israelis living in Mitzpe Yericho to leave. But its 3,000 residents, nearly all whom are religious nationalists, have no such intention. To them, the settlement enterprise is God-given and irreversible. “If there’s peace with the Palestinians we’re staying and if there’s no peace we’re staying,” said Yoel Mishael, 65, who has lived in Mitzpe Yericho since its founding. “It’s part of Israel, according to the Bible. It’s something from God.”
The foreign ministers will meet on Friday with the aim of paving the way for a summit later in the year that they hope the Israeli and Palestinian leaders will attend.

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