Israel appropriated a swath of 990 acres in the West Bank on Sunday and declared the Palestinian area south of Bethlehem to be Israeli “state lands,” local media reported.
According to the veteran anti-settlement group Peace Now, the declaration is the largest of its kind since the 1980s and stands to change the area dramatically.
The group said the Bethlehem area lands are earmarked for a massive expansion of the small settlement of Gevaot, which could grow into a town connected to the so-called Green Line that marks the border that stood prior to the 1967 war.
The announcement of the appropriation was made by COGAT, the military unit implementing the policies of Israel’s government in the Palestinian territories it controls.
The settlement is located in the West Bank area Israel calls the Etzyon Bloc, which is one of several settlement blocs Israel reportedly seeks to keep and annex under a future peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Palestinian officials slammed the decision.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ office demanded that the decision be rescinded, and warned it would further escalate tensions between Israel and the Palestinians.
The announcement reflects Israel’s intent to “wipe out any Palestinian presence on the land” and impose a “de-facto one-state solution,” senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi told foreign media.
Yariv Oppenheimer of Peace Now accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of “destroying any diplomatic horizon” and weakening Abbas with the settlement policy. The largest appropriation of West Bank land in three decades was a “stab in the back” to Abbas and all Palestinian moderates, Oppenheimer wrote in a Facebook post.
Settlement leaders, however, welcomed the announcement. Yigal Dilmoni of the Yesha Council settlement umbrella group called the move an “appropriate Zionist response to terror attacks against Israel.”
Reportedly, the government had decided to declare the area state lands shortly after three Jewish teenagers were abducted and killed in the same West Bank area in June.
Sobelman is a special correspondent