Israel plans to seize West Bank land
Jerusalem, January 21
Israel confirmed today it was planning to appropriate a large tract of fertile land in the occupied West Bank, close to Jordan, a move likely to exacerbate tensions with Western allies and already drawing international condemnation.
In an email sent to Reuters, COGAT, a unit of Israel’s Defence Ministry, said the political decision to seize the territory had already been taken and “the land is in the final stages of being declared state land”. The appropriation, first reported by Israel’s Army Radio, covers 154 hectares in the Jordan Valley close to Jericho, an area where Israel already has many settlement farms built on land Palestinians seek for a state.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon yesterday denounced the seizure, which is the largest appropriation in the West Bank since August 2014. “Settlement activities are a violation of international law and run counter to the public pronouncements of the government of Israel supporting a two-state solution to the conflict,” Ban said in a statement.
The land, already partly farmed by Jewish settlers in an area fully under Israeli civilian and military control, is situated near the northern tip of the Dead Sea. No Palestinians live there.
“Israel is stealing land specially in the Jordan Valley under the pretext it wants to annex it,” Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, told Reuters. “This should be a reason for a real and effective intervention by the international community to end such a flagrant and grave aggression which kills all chances of peace.” The United States, whose ambassador angered Israel this week with criticism of its West Bank policy, said it was strongly opposed to any move that accelerates settlement expansion.
“We believe they’re fundamentally incompatible with a two-state solution and call into question, frankly, the Israeli government’s commitment to a two-state solution,” Deputy State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to address the World Economic Forum in Davos today. It was not immediately clear if he would speak on the issue or if foreign diplomats would raise their concerns with him.
The Palestinians want to establish an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, areas Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War.
There are now about 550,000 Jewish settlers living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem combined, according to Israeli government and think-tank statistics. About 350,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem and 2.7 million in West Bank.
Israel is hoping that in any final agreement with the Palestinians it will be able to keep large settlement blocs close to Jerusalem and the Israeli border, as well as in the Jordan Valley.
The Palestinians are adamantly opposed.