The roadmap to peace cannot survive while Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon supports settlements, said British MPs who travelled with Christian Aid to the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Referring to Sharon's proposal to withdraw Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip, Tory MP Tony Baldry, who chairs the International Development Select Committee, said: "I do not see how Israel disengaging from Gaza while continuing to occupy large parts of the West Bank conceivably offers an opportunity to return to the roadmap." Mr Baldry said Israeli settlements were built on land confiscated from Palestinians, without compensation. "Palestinian infrastructure is often destroyed in the process and Palestinian agricultural lands are cut through," he said. "The settlements also enjoy privileged access to natural resources. Water consumption by settlers inGaza and the West Bank is four to five times that of Palestinian villagers." Other politicians who have travelled to Israel and the Territories with Christian Aid in recent months include: Tory MP John Bercow, Labour's Joan Ruddock, and Catholic Baroness Shirley Williams. John Bercow, who has travelled to the country before with the Conservative Friends of Israel group, said that many Palestinians were now almost entirely dependent on food handouts, as farmers could no longer produce food because of restrictions on their movement. He added that the group was shocked at the entry point to Gaza because of the long delays suffered by Palestinians leaving the territory. ' "Those delays appeared to be driven not by considerations of security, which are legitimate considerations in determining operational practice, but by a desire to obstruct, cause irritation and sap morale,'"he said. Labour MP Joan Ruddock, who was taken to see the separation barrier, said: "The barrier separates farmers and families from the crops that they must grow, attend to and harvest. It separates school children from their schools. It separates sick people from the hospitals that they desperately need. That adds up to a real humanitarian crisis beyond notions of illegality." The politicians' visit was part of a Christian Aid programme to enable politicians to see for themselves the everyday experiences of both Palestinians and Israelis. Christian Aid's new briefing paper, calls on Israel to abandon its unilateral disengagement policy and to withdraw from both the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The briefing paper states: "An Israeli withdrawal of military forces and illegal settlements from the West Bank and Gaza Strip is a vital condition for the improvement of the critical humanitarian situation that Palestinians are facing. "However, the Israeli government's new policy undermines international law by legitimising the illegal settlements on the West Bank. "Moreover, there remains a question over whether Israel's withdrawal from Gaza really will be total." The paper also said that the UK and US were in danger of breaching international law because Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George Bush's apparently endorse the idea that Palestinians must accept 'realities on the ground', including the illegal Israeli settlements housing almost 400,000 people and built on Palestinian land.
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