Palestinians criticized Israel’s decision to appropriate about 1,000 acres of West Bank land, a move that one Israeli non-governmental organization said was “unprecedented in scope” since the 1980s.
The Defense Ministry yesterday declared the area south of the West Bank city of Bethlehem state land, a designation that under Israeli law allows for settlement construction. The property is located in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, which Israel has said it intends to retain in any final peace agreement with the Palestinians.
“This decision, which leads to a further deterioration of the situation, must be blocked,” Nabil Abu Rudeina, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said in a statement. Any construction would have to undergo an approval process that could take years.
The move comes less than a week after Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip reached a cease-fire agreement to end more than seven weeks of fighting. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in July that the conflict showed it was too risky for Israel to trade more land for peace with the Palestinians in the West Bank.
Yesterday’s decision is counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of achieving a two-state solution, the New York Times reported, citing a U.S. State Department official it didn’t identify. A spokesman for Netanyahu had no comment on the decision.
The land-for-peace premise underlies decades of diplomatic efforts to reach a two-state solution. The Palestinians say Israel’s settlement construction and its demands to retain control over security in the area undermine their right to a viable state. Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war.
Disagreements over the borders of the future Palestinian state and the extent of an Israeli pullout contributed to the collapse of U.S.-sponsored negotiations talks in April.
“As far as we know, this declaration is unprecedented in its scope since the 1980’s and can dramatically change the reality in the Gush Etzion and the Bethlehem area,” the Israeli non-government organization Peace Now, which monitors settlement growth, said in a statement on yesterday’s decision.