Israeli minister criticises appropriation of West Bank land

Justice minister Tzipi Livni says decision damages Israel’s security

Israeli justice  minister  Tzipi Livni:   “We took a place that was not controversial and turned it into a place that was controversial.”  Photograph:  Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images

Israeli justice minister Tzipi Livni: “We took a place that was not controversial and turned it into a place that was controversial.” Photograph: Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images

Tue, Sep 2, 2014, 01:00

Israel’s doveish justice minister Tzipi Livni has criticised the government’s decision to appropriate a large swath of West Bank land near Bethlehem, where settlers plan to build a new settler city.

“The decision was incorrect. It was a decision that weakens Israel and damages its security,” she said. “We took a place that was not controversial and turned it into a place that was controversial.”

Britain and France yesterday joined the United States in condemning the appropriation of almost 1,000 acres of land west of Bethlehem, in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc that Israel believes will remain under its sovereignty as part of land swap arrangements to be negotiated under a final peace agreement.

Washington rebuked Israel, calling the move “counter- productive” to efforts to achieve a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.

Three teenagers

The area is close to where three Jewish teenagers were murdered in June. The two alleged assailants, both Hamas members, remain at large, although Israel has arrested a man, also a Hamas activist, who it says headed the cell and ordered the operation.

The killings led to a massive security crackdown by Israel against Hamas across the West Bank. Militant rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, in response to the security sweep, acted as the catalyst for the 50-day war which ended last week.

The decision by the government to declare the area state land means the territory will be available for settlement construction and the Gush Etzion council made clear that it plans to build a new city on the site, called Gvaot.

If the plan comes to fruition, Gvaot will be the first new settlement city constructed in the West Bank for 30 years.

The local Palestinian mayor said Palestinians owned some of the land in question and used it for harvesting olive trees.

Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, called on Israel to cancel the appropriation. “This decision will lead to more instability,” he said. “This will only inflame the situation after the war in Gaza.”

Palestinian Authority sources said they intended to appeal to international institutions to pressure Israel to reverse the decision.

Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Jewish Home party, said the decision to build in the Etzion bloc was the Zionist answer to Arab terror.

“Continue to build”

“We continue to build our country as we always have. For over 120 years, since the dawn of Zionism, we have built and the world did not like our building – not before there was a state, and not after the establishment of Israel,” he said. “Hamas murders and we build.”

Some 500,000 Israelis live among 2.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said yesterday that Israel continued to keep a close watch on the Golan Heights following the seizing of UN peacekeepers.

“What we see is that al-Nusra, Hamas, Hezbollah - backed by Iran, al Qaeda and these other terrorist groups are basically defying all international norms, breaking them whether in Lebanon, Syria or Gaza.”