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THE CITIZEN BUREAU | 2 SEPTEMBER, 2014

New Provocation, Israel Occupies Massive Tract of West Bank Land

Diminishing space since 1947.


NEW DELHI: Few days after Israeli and Palestinian representatives signed a peace deal in Cairo that ended Israel’s 50 day assault on the Gaza strip, Israel announced a move that indicates that the crisis in the region is far from settled.

Israel announced that it will be appropriating 400 hectares of land in the occupied West Bank’s Etzion settlement bloc near Bethlehem, which anti-settlement proponents have termed the largest land grab in 30 years.

The move drew condemnation from Palestine, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesperson Abu Rdainah saying, “this decision will lead to more instability. This will only inflame the situation after the war in Gaza.”

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat called for diplomatic action against Israel. "The Israeli government is committing various crimes against the Palestinian people and their occupied land," Erakat was quoted as saying by the AFP. "The international community should hold Israel accountable as soon as possible for its crimes and raids against our people in Gaza and the ongoing Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem."

Israel’s strongest ally the United States also condemned the move, with US President Barack Obama urging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reverse the decision. A US State Department official described the move as "counterproductive to Israel's stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians.”

Israel’s settlement activities in the West Bank have been termed as an “obstacle to peace” by the US and the European Union, as its in contradiction with the objectives of a two nation solution where occupied West Bank territory is considered Palestinian land.

The issue of outpost construction was a major point of contention in the US brokered peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which eventually failed on account of the unity deal between Hamas and Fatah. In response to the unity deal, Israel had announced that it would approve plans to build 1500 settlement homes in the West Bank.

Uri Ariel, the Israeli housing minister, had said the plans were a "fitting Zionist response to the formation of a Palestinian terror government,” adding that the plans were “just the beginning” of Israel’s measures of disapproval.

Reports show that the number of Israeli settlements being constructing in the West Bank more than doubled during 2013. Work began on 2,534 new housing units in 2013 compared to 1133 in the previous year.

In fact, aid groups had pointed to an increase in demolitions and displacement of Palestinian officials since the renewed US-backed peace negotiations began compared with the same period in 2012. The number of demolitions increased by almost half and the displacement of Palestinians by nearly three quarters between July 2013 and the end of the year, said a statement released by 25 aid organisations working in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. The aid groups said that of the 663 Palestinian structures torn down last year, the highest number in five years, 122 were built with international donor aid.

Israel had previously announced plans for 382 new homes in the West Bank, following the approval of plans for 272 new homes earlier in January 2014. The approval of plans for 1500 homes was a significant increase, and this latest announcement of the land grab will further embitter relations, especially as it is indicative that Israel as disinterested in peace or a long-term solution as it was prior to the agreement brokered by Egypt that was signed just a few days ago.

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