Palestinian women clash with Israeli soldiers at the Qalandia checkpoint between Ramallah and occupied East Jerusalem.

To the south, Israeli soldiers clash with youth in Beit Ummar, near Hebron.

These are the latest manifestations of boiling tensions in the area, sparked by Israel's announcement of large-scale settlement expansion in Occupied East Jerusalem.

Israel has kept the West Bank under lockdown since Thursday night, the punitive measure only serving to increase tension and draw international attention to the devastating potential of a lost political horizon in the region.

The Palestinian leadership has said "no more" for now. Outraged by a series of announcements on settlement expansion, the Palestinian President, announced on Wednesday that unless Israel suspends its settlement expansion plans, even the American-proposed proximity talks would not be feasible.

Ordinary Palestinians are pleased because even if not talking does not stop the ever-encroaching settlements, Palestinians say at least this way, their difficult reality would not be hidden behind handshakes and empty promises.

I heard that sentiment echoed loud and clear in Hizma, a village near occupied East Jerusalem.

Um Shaaban has lived there for 34 years. She's seen her land and olive groves disappear behind Israel’s wall. Sitting on a step in a backyard she is seldom allowed to sit (because Israeli soldiers watching close-by don't allow the family to gather there), she peeled an orange while talking to me.

Do you believe someone can stop these settlements around you, I asked her.

"They're liars, the Israelis; they took away all the land," she responded calmly.

Hizma is a microcosm of a disappearing Palestine. Over the years, Hizma has shrunk - by almost 50 per cent - while the Israeli settlements of Neve Yaacov and Pisgat Zeev - built illegally in the same town - have grown.

Now, they form a ring around Hizma, choking it from three different directions.

An Israeli human rights organisation revealed Israel plans to build 50,000 new homes for Israeli settlers in occupied East Jerusalem.

The plan is part of three settlement rings around Occupied East Jerusalem, severing it from the rest of its Palestinian surrounding. Neve Yaacov and Pisgat Zeev are part of the outer ring and the latest revealed expansion plan includes them too.

A look around Hizma and the picture becomes clear; while these settlements grow, the residents are increasingly squeezed, barred from building in most of the town's territory and banned from accessing most of what were their olive groves.

"Look there; they uprooted all the olives to plant pine trees … I grew up picking those trees and playing in the field. Now I can only see it from far", Hayel, Um Shaaban's son was pointing at the hill across – it's still Hizma; only now it's behind Israel's Wall and he is not allowed on his land anymore.

Hayel feels like a prisoner; hostage to the whims of the settlement enterprise.

A young man in his twenties, engaged to be married, Hayel doesn't have much hope for tomorrow.

"As time passes, things get worse – no one cares. The Israelis are taking this land like cancer; they’re eating it up."

Israel's illegal settlement enterprise has altered life and geography here – people’s traditional livelihoods and way of life have been altered – there is no more land for them to plant on, no more fields for their herds to graze.

Hope here is as scarce as the shrinking land.

Israel offends visiting friend, cripples peace talks

On the first day of US Vice President's visit to the region, Israel’s Interior Ministry had announced its approval of the construction of 1,600 new settlement housing units in Occupied East Jerusalem.

The announcement drew sharp criticism from around the world; starting with the devout Israeli friend and guest: Joesph Biden.

He condemned the announcement, raising eyebrows in Israel for what was an unusually strong American reaction.

The announcement was shocking for Palestinians and international leaders seeking a sniffle of hope for peace in the troubled region. But the shock was even more infuriating to the American Administration, who felt insulted by the Israeli actions.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu apologized for the "bad timing", adding to Palestinians' fury.

International law considers all settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, to be illegal. So timing is not the problem as far the law is concerned; settlements are.

The fallout from Biden's visit has been unraveling, in the form of quite strong statements.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton phoned the Israeli Prime Minister and told him such actions were harmful to the two country's bilateral relations.

Media "leaks" from unnamed "senior American officials" talk about difficult days and weeks ahead in American-Israeli relations.

Adding to the diplomatic embarrassment, the Quartet for Middle East peace (made up of Russia, the US, the EU, and UN) issued its own scathing statement, condemning the illegal Israeli measures and warning of possible 'extra steps'.

Other countries followed, including, Norway, Argentina, and the usually religiously neutral Switzerland.

Worldwide, including Israel, the media has been talking about the slap in the face Israel gave its best ally, the United States. Commentators have also been talking about the colossal miscalculations the Israeli government committed.

Late on Saturday, Israel's prime minister convened a special meeting and announced the formation of an inquiry into the events that lead to this unusually public US-Israel debacle.

The subject of the inquiry is timing, which ignores the strong international calls for the reversal of these plans. Some critics have attacked the Palestinian position, saying negotiations had gone ahead in the past despite Israeli settlement expansion. What they forget, or don't know, is that Palestinian condemnation of settlements dates back to the beginning of the "peace process".

They also may not know that the settler population ballooned from barely 150,000 in 1994, at the start of the process, to almost half a million today.

This unprecedented settlement expansion Palestinians and international organisations say, is literally causing the disappearance of the free, contiguous, and viable Palestine the world has promised Palestinians after 44 years of occupation.

So although Palestinians have welcomed these strong statements, they say they are not enough to make peace efforts succeed - because Israel is creating facts on the ground that mere rhetoric cannot wish away.

For while the prospect of an independent Palestine is disappearing meter by meter, statements may be politically costly for Israel but they have yet to stop a bulldozer from leveling the land in Hizma, in preparation for one more settlement home.

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