Israel to seize almost 1,000 acres of land in West Bank
Move paves way for further settlements in the occupied territory
Prefabricated homes in a Jewish settlement, Gevaot, in the Etzion settlement bloc near Bethlehem. Israel yesterday announced a land appropriation in the occupied West Bank that an anti-settlement group termed the biggest in 30 years. Photograph: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun
Israel says it is appropriating a large swath of land in the occupied West Bank, near the area where three Jewish boys were killed in June by Palestinians affiliated with Hamas – an event that helped trigger the 50-day war in the Gaza Strip.
Some 400 hectares (990 acres) in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc near Bethlehem was declared state land by Israel’s military-run Civil Administration, in what an anti-settlement group called the biggest appropriation of Palestinian land in three decades.
The move paves the way for the building of further settlements, which the Palestinians say are an obstacle to their formation of a future state.
Israel Radio, reporting on the decision, said it had been taken in response to the kidnapping and killing in June by Hamas militants of three Jewish teenagers who had been hitchhiking in the area. However, the military notice gave no reason for the move.
Israel ended its peace talks with the Palestinians in April after Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, formed a unity government with Hamas. The kidnapping of the three boys and subsequent Israeli security crackdown in the West Bank led to this summer’s war with Hamas, which ended in a ceasefire last week.
A Palestinian official condemned the land decision, saying it was part of an Israeli government campaign to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state.
“It shows once again that this government is not interested in peace,” said Xavier Abu Eid, a spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s negotiations department.
“What happened in Gaza and what is happening in the West Bank are both part of the same policy – to deny Palestinian rights.”
Peace Now, an Israeli non- governmental group that favours the creation of a Palestinian state, said that yesterday’s land declaration was “unprecedented in its scope since the 1980s” and would “stab moderate Palestinian forces in the back”.
“Peace Now views this declaration as proof that prime minister Netanyahu does not aspire for a new ‘diplomatic horizon’ but rather, he continues to put obstacles to the two- state vision and promote a one-state solution,” the group said.
After last week’s ceasefire with Hamas was agreed, the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, said that “regional change among the moderate elements” in the Middle East had “created a new diplomatic horizon for Israel”.
The Israeli leader and other government ministers have expressed hopes that Mr Abbas’s Palestinian Authority and moderate Gulf Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, will join forces to rein in Hamas and weaken it militarily in a post-war Gaza.
The Israeli leader has said he would be open to restarting negotiations with “a Palestinian government committed to peace with Israel”.
Mr Netanyahu’s government is a coalition of centre- right figures, some of whom favour restarting peace talks, and far-right parties, including the pro-settler Jewish Home party, who oppose an independent Palestinian state.
Meanwhile, Israel’s air force shot down a drone that entered its air space from Syria yesterday, in another sign of deteriorating security in the Golan Heights border region, where members of a United Nations peacekeeping force have been abducted in recent days.
The Israel Defence Forces said one of its missiles had destroyed the drone near the border town of Quneitra. It said the drone probably belonged to the Syrian military, which had been fighting an al-Qaeda affiliated rebel group in the area over the past week.
“We have repeatedly stated that we will respond to any breach of Israel’s sovereignty and will continue to act to maintain safety and security [for] the civilians of the state of Israel,” the IDF said.
The interception came a day after the UN said a group of its peacekeepers in the Golan had come under attack by armed fighters as they tried to free 44 “blue helmet” soldiers from Fiji stationed in the Golan who were detained by rebels last Thursday. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2014