CMEP Bulletin: Israel Claims West Bank Land for Settlement Expansion
Weekly news from Churches for Middle East Peace
On August 31st Israel declared 4,000 dunams or nearly 1,000 acres, near Bethlehem to be state land. The Palestinian Mayor of Surif stated that the land was planted with olive and forest trees and belonged to Palestinian families from the villages of Surif, Jaba’a and Wadi Fukin. The Israeli Coordination of Government Activities in Territories (GOGAT) said the move had been ordered in response to the abduction and murder of three Jewish teenagers in June and is designed to create contiguity between the Green (armistice) Line and three settlements, Bitsar Ilit, Kfar Etzion, and Gva’ot; the latter is a previously unrecognized settlement. COGAT said it determined there is no Palestinian claim on this land, but those opposed to the decision have 45 days to file their objections.
The PLO called for a reversal of the land claim, stating that it represented Israel’s desire to impose a one-state solution. A senior Israeli official reportedly said the land expropriation announcement “drove the Americans nuts”. US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki also called on Israel to reverse its decision, noting that it sends a “very troubling message ” and is “contrary to Israeli’s stated goal of a two-state solution.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry called Netanyahu Wednesday morning to sharply protest Israel’s decision. In addition to the US, the EU, UK, France, Egypt, Norway, Japan, and the UN called on Israel to reverse its decision. All cited concerns that it could undermine the peace process and runs counter to pursuit of a two-state solution. The Obama administration is said to be considering unspecified further action.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman defended Israel’s decision, saying the declaration reflects the consensus within Israeli society that Gush Etzion would remain part of Israel in any future peace deal. Both Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid criticized the timing of the decision. Livni expressed concern that Israel’s land claim could bring the entire Etzion Settlement Bloc under renewed scrutiny resulting in its deligitimization.
Israel’s appropriation of this land follows a controversial decision made in August by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to dismantle unauthorized outposts set up in July to honor the three Israeli teens kidnapped and killed in the same area at the end of June. Peace Now called this land claim, unprecedented since the 1980s, a stab in the back of Palestinian President Abbas and moderate Palestinian forces. At the same time, deputy director of the Yesha Council of Settlers Yigal Dilmoni called it an “appropriate Zionist response [to the murder of the Israeli teens]” and called on the Israeli government to go further in developing West Bank Settlements.