10/31/2013, 00.00
ISRAEL - PALESTINE
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In Israel, a state-funded call centre selling illegal West Bank homes

Set up by Amana, the settlement branch of the Yesha (settlement) Council, the office has been active for four years. During this period, it sold illegal Palestinian land to hundreds of unaware foreign customers. Amana is supported by the World Zionist Organisation, an agency funded by the state.

Tel Aviv (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The World Zionist Organisation's settlement department, which is financed through state budgets, has been selling illegal homes in the West Bank through a call centre paid with public money.

According to an investigation by Israeli daily Haaretz, the organisation has been operating undisturbed for four years, selling hundreds of homes and plots of land in illegal settlements, all without the knowledge of the authorities.

To set up the call centre, the World Zionist Organisation (WZO) from 2009 to 2013 moved more than US$ 285,000 to Amana, the settlement movement associated with the Yesha Council, an umbrella organisation of municipal councils of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The transfer was made without any audit on the use of public funds.

The Haaretz investigation found that the call centre operates in English, aimed primarily at Jews living abroad. Its operators offer customers very detailed information, including plans and pictures, about the houses on sale, obscuring any distinction between legal and illegal construction on Palestinian land.

The Israeli newspaper's own journalists have tested the call centre, pretending to be interested in a house. The call centre operator proposed a house in the settlement of Eli, which was built without permits.

The WZO has been accused of making illegal profits by using state funding, which are distributed every year without any controls. In fact, the organisation's budget more than doubled in 2012, jumping from US$ 17 million to US$ 77 million.

A 2005 report commissioned by then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and authored by attorney Talia Sasson into illegal outposts found many flaws in the department's operations. Among other things, Sasson discovered that the department had financed illegal construction for many years in various locations.

The net result has been that more Israeli-funded settlements have made ​​it impossible for the West Bank to retain its territorial unity, which is the main obstacle to peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine.

An estimated 500,000 Israeli settlers now live on Palestinian territory. Their number has been rising under Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing government, which has pushed for more settlements in the occupied areas rather than a freeze on granting construction permits.

Yesterday, the Israeli government approved another 1,500 new housing units in east Jerusalem, a figure that could jump to 5,000 within the next few months.

The announcement came a day after the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners.

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