By BEN HUBBARD, Associated Press Writer Thu Dec 17, 5:29 pm ET
QARIOUT, West Bank – In this West Bank village surrounded by Israeli settlements, a Palestinian farmer says he has documents proving he owns his land. On a nearby hill, Jewish settler Batya Medad says she too has proof of ownership — the Old Testament.
This quarrel over the land Palestinians claim for their future state is the chief roadblock in Middle East peace efforts.
Mohammed Muqbil was born in this West Bank village in 1939; Medad has lived in neighboring Shiloh since its creation four decades later. They speak different languages and have never met, though their homes lie less than a mile apart.
And between them lies the harsh conflict over Israel's West Bank settlements.
The Palestinians have refused to resume negotiations until all settlement building stops. Last month, Israel's government announced a 10-month halt to new construction in hopes of bringing the Palestinians to the table. But east Jerusalem and some 3,000 homes already under construction were exempt and the Palestinians rejected it.
Qariout, a rocky village of 2,600 people about 20 miles north of Jerusalem, illustrates why Palestinians are desperate to halt the spread of Jewish settlements.
Beyond the political issue of their effect on borders for any future Palestinian state, settlements restrict daily life in hundreds of West Bank villages and gobble up farmland — Qariout has lost two-thirds of its land since 1979.