Peace talks and the settlements issue

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LISA MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is The World. We begin our show in the Middle East. There were clashes today in East Jerusalem. A Palestinian man was shot dead by an Israeli security guard. That sparked a rampage by Palestinian young people. The tension is palpable in the Middle East, just four days prior to a key deadline. This coming Sunday, an Israeli moratorium on most settlement construction in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank is set to expire. Both supporters and opponents of settlement activity are vying for attention ahead of the deadline. The World's Matthew Bell is in Jerusalem. He went on a settlement tour today, and sent us this report.

MIRI EISEN: If you look out on the hill on the left, you can see that there's an Arab town, that's a Palestinian town�

MATTHEW BELL: A mini-bus winds its way past Jewish settlements in the rocky hills of the West Bank. It's a trip for foreign journalists organized by an Israeli advocacy group. First stop is the Jewish settlement of Alfe Menashe, which sits on a hill overlooking the Palestinian town of Qalqilyah. Tour guide and former Israeli Army spokeswoman Miri Eisen says the view shows how Israel has to take the lay of the land into account as it negotiates with the Palestinians.

EISEN: Anywhere that you're standing from this line looking out towards the west, you can see the edge of the horizon is the Mediterranean Sea. Fourteen kilometers.

BELL: That's barely 9 miles. And these hills have a commanding view of an area where 75% of Israelis live. Eisen's point is this. Israel has to be careful about giving up territory in the West Bank that could be used by Palestinian militants to attack the Israeli heartland.

EISEN: The people here want a two-state solution. But the implications are not just about each side being ideological. This is also both about security and trust, OK? Let's get on the bus and I'll keep talking there. I have loads of maps.

BELL: Next stop is Ariel. It's less a West Bank settlement than a city of about 20,000 people. Most didn't move here for ideological reasons. They came for cheap housing, fresh air and suburban-style living. Palestinian construction workers are putting the finishing touches on a new 8 million dollar cultural center. Recently, a group of Israeli actors said they would never perform here, in occupied territory. But the mayor of Ariel, Ron Nachman says the overwhelming majority of Israeli entertainers are happy to come. Nachman says he doesn't agree with the term �occupation� anyway. He says he helped establish this city in the heart of the Biblical land of Samaria with the full blessing of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

RON NACHMAN: I'm here by permission of all the Israeli governments. I don't need to apologize. I built the city.

BELL: Nachman says he believes in co-existence with the Arabs, but not two separate states. If Israelis give up all the settlements, he says, no one can guarantee that the Jewish State will be able to survive.

NACHMAN: It's a shame of the world. Shame of the world, what they do and put such a pressure on the only Jewish homeland in the world after 2,000 years. All those people should be ashamed.

BELL: Israelis in general don't share Nachman's perspective. Polls show they would be willing to dismantle most settlements. But Israel's deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor argues that some settlements will remain in any peace deal.

DAN MERIDOR: It's quite clear to Palestinians that there will be parts of what we call Judea and Samaria, the West Bank, that will not be part of the state of Palestine. They'll be part of Israel. Is there any reason not to build there?

BELL: From the Palestinian point of view, the issue of settlements and settlement expansion is straightforward.

ASHRAF KHATIB: For example, over here we are standing on top of a hill near a village of Nahalin. There is a big settlement called, Beitar Illit.

BELL: Ashraf Khatib is a media consultant with the Palestine Liberation Organization. He takes me on a brief tour of the West Bank, near the Palestinian town of Bethlehem. The whole settlement enterprise, he says, is illegal. Even so, the Palestinian leadership has accepted the principle of land swaps, and a place like Beitar Illit, just south of Jerusalem, might end up becoming part of Israel. But Khatib says Israel isn't exactly generating good will as the peace talks proceed.

KHATIB: So, what we are saying to the Israelis today, stop the settlements. Freeze the settlements for the time being while we are going to negotiation. Israel had put so many facts on the ground, trying to give the impression to the international community that it's difficult to evacuate these settlers.

BELL: After weeks of saying otherwise, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is reported to have said that he would not necessarily walk away from negotiations with Israel if some settlement building resumes next week. For The World, I'm Matthew Bell in Jerusalem.