Israel has announced plans to appropriate 400 hectares (1000 acres) of land in the occupied West Bank, in a move described as “the biggest in 30 years”.
The land in particular is the area south of the town of Bethlehem, within what the Israelis call the Etzion bloc of settlements, which Israel determined was not cultivated with enough intensity for the Palestinians to keep their rights to ownership.
Most likely, the land will be used to build a permanent settlement. The Israeli army’s civil affairs department stated yesterday: “On the instructions of the political echelon…4,000 dunams at Gevaot is declared as state land.”
Already signs have been posted on the land by military administrators saying “state land-no trespassing.”
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said: “The Israeli government is committing various crimes against the Palestinian people and their occupied land. The international community should hold Israel accountable as soon as possible for its crimes and raids against our people in Gaza and the ongoing Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.”
Israel Radio said the step was taken in response to the kidnapping and killing of three Jewish teenagers in the area in June.
The settlements council in Gevaot said: “It paves the way for the new city of Gevaot.”
“The goal of the murderers of those three youths was to sow fear among us, to disrupt our daily lives and to call into doubt our right to the land. Our response is to strengthen settlement.”
The UN, EU and USA all regard the building of new settlements as a violation of international law. A State Department official from the US said, “We have long made clear our opposition to continued settlement activity. This announcement, like every other settlement announcement Israel makes, planning step they approve and construction tender they issue is counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians.”
“We urge the government of Israel to reverse this decision.”