Correction: We mentioned in the title that the land grab occurred in Gaza, when in fact it occurred in the West Bank, which is explained in the article.

The British government has deplored Israel’s decision to expropriate a large section of land within the occupied West Bank warning that this move will “do serious damage to Israel’s standing in the international community.”

On 31st August Israel announced its decision to expropriate the land in the Etzion settlement block near Bethlehem. The takeover will supposedly clear the way for expansion of a settlement named Gevaot.

According to a report released by the PLO’s negotiations affairs department: “The illegal settlement of Gevaot was established in 1984 as a military base. It was later transferred to a Yeshiva (Jewish Religious School) and is currently inhabited by 16 families. The recent Israeli confiscation would allow for the illegal settlements to grow to the size of a city. It aims at linking the illegal settlement with the Green Line, grabbing more Palestinian land so as to facilitate future annexation.”

Israel has been the subject of intense international criticism over its settlement activities which have been regarded as illegal under international law and an obstacle to any possibility of bringing peace to the area. Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesperson for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said: “This decision will lead to more instability. This will only inflame the situation after the war in Gaza.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated that “The seizure of such a large swathe of land risks paving the way for further settlement activity, which – as the United Nations has reiterated on many occasions – is illegal under international law and runs totally counter to the pursuit of a two-state solution.”

UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond commented on the situation saying:

“Our position on settlements is clear: they are illegal under international law, present an obstacle to peace and take us further away from a two-state solution at a time when negotiations to achieve this objective urgently need to be resumed.

“All efforts should currently be focused on securing durable ceasefire in Gaza and the lasting peace that the Palestinian and Israeli people deserve. We strongly urge the government of Israel to reverse this decision.”

The murder and kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers is being suggested as justification for Israel’s land grab. Some Israeli critics of Prime Minister Binjamin Netanyahu’s government have suggested the announcement was a response to the significant pressure applied on Netanyahu from the far-right wing elements of his coalition.

The anti-settlement group Peace Now have described the move as the biggest claim in 30 years. “Peace Now views this declaration as proof that Prime Minister Netanyahu does not aspire for a new ‘Diplomatic Horizon’, but rather he continues to put obstacles to the two-state vision and promote a one-state solution,” the group said.

“By declaring another 4,000 dunams as state land, the Israeli government is stabbing [Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas] and the moderate Palestinian forces in the back, proving again that violence delivers Israeli concessions while non-violence results in settlement expansion,” the group added.

On the other hand, the Etzion settlements council welcomed the announcement saying it “paves the way for the new city of Gevaot. The goal of the murders of those three youths was to sow fear among us, to disrupt our daily lives and to call into doubt our right to the land. Our response is to strengthen settlement.”

The British government was not alone in its condemnation of Israel’s decision. A statement on France’s Foreign Ministry website said: “France condemns the decision of the Israeli authorities to confiscate 400 hectares of land near Bethlehem in favour of the nearby settlement of Gevaot. France calls for the Israeli authorities to reverse their decision.”

The U.S. State Department on Sunday called for Tel Aviv to reconsider its decision and said taking the land would be “counterproductive” to peace efforts in the region.

The Israeli Civil Administration, which rules over Palestinians in Israeli-controlled areas of the West Bank, has posted “no trespassing” signs in the valley.

Farmer Mahmoud Mifrah, 66, had been growing vegetables and olives in Wadi Fukin for 42 years and did not see why he should suffer the consequences of others’ crimes.

“We are the neighbours of the Israeli people,” Mifrah said. “We share water and air and everything. We have to find a way to live together.”

Roughly half a million Israelis live in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, home to 2.4 million Palestinians who say their territory is rapidly shrinking.

Israel tends to justify its actions in the name of security. However, in the eyes of the rest of the world, its actions confirm that Israeli leaders are creating obstacles in order to prevent a two-state solution to the conflict.



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