By: Ben Lynfield, Zachary Davies Boren
Israel has announced plans to expropriate 400 hectares of land in the occupied West Bank in a move Palestinian officials claim will cause more friction after the Gaza conflict.
The announcement concerning land south of Bethlehem, inside what Israelis call the Etzion bloc of settlements, comes after Israel determined the land was not cultivated with enough intensity for the Palestinians to maintain their ownership rights.
Signs have already been posted on the land by military administrators saying “state land – no trespassing”. Dror Etkes, head of the Kerem Navot NGO which specializes in West Bank land issues, said: “There is enough territory for a very big settlement with thousands of units.”
The notice published by the military gave no reason for the decision, but Israel Radio said the step was taken in response to the kidnapping and killing of three Jewish teenagers in the area in June.
The United States has criticized the announcement and branded it counter-productive to peace efforts.
“We have long made clear our opposition to continued settlement activity,” a State Department official said. “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,” the official said in Washington.
Peace Now, which opposes Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank, said the appropriation was meant to turn a site where 10 families now live adjacent to a Jewish seminary into a permanent settlement.