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“The largest land takeover in the West Bank in decades”

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Israeli authorities have announced that a 12.7-square-kilometer area in the occupied West Bank is state land, meaning it can be designated for Jewish settlement, according to the Israeli Peace Now movement. It is the largest takeover of Palestinian land in decades, it said in a statement.

The Israeli administration approved the decision in late June, but it was made public on Wednesday. It concerns areas in the Jordan Valley, northeast of Ramallah. In 2024 Israel declared two other areas with a total area exceeding 10 square kilometers as state land. Both are adjacent to each other.

READ: “We can barely breathe. We're running out of air”

This year is a record year in terms of the area taken over by Israel in the occupied territories, Pokój Teraz emphasizes. The area covered by the latest decision “is the largest since the signing of the Oslo Accords in the 1990s,” which allowed for the creation of the Palestinian National Authority, the organization informs.

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Israel takes control of West Bank territories

Granting land the status of state property is one of Israel's main methods of gaining control over the territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, occupied since the 1967 war, Peace Now points out.

Israel cannot confiscate occupied land under international law, so, citing a law dating back to the Ottoman Empire and the lack of documentation on Palestinian ownership, it declares uncultivated land state property rather than confiscating it, the movement adds.

Under Israeli law, such areas are no longer considered private property of Palestinians, and state land can only be leased by Israelis, paving the way for the creation of Jewish settlements there.

Palestinian mosque in East JerusalemATEF SAFADI/PAP/EPA

Palestinians see the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank as a major obstacle to furthering the peace process and the emergence of an independent Palestine, which the current Israeli government opposes.

The West Bank is home to three million Palestinians, and there are over a hundred Jewish settlements inhabited by over half a million people, the AP agency reminds. The international community considers all Jewish settlements in the West Bank illegal.

“Irreversible cementing of Israeli control”

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the far-right Religious Zionism alliance, has long announced his intention to accelerate the process of land acquisition and settlement construction in the West Bank.

As part of the division of labour in the ruling coalition, the most nationalist and religious cabinet in the country's history, Smotrich was given the authority to control the Israeli administration of the West Bank.

West BankPAP

During a conference in late June, Smotrich revealed a plan for the West Bank that would transfer the powers of the military to a civilian administration and irreversibly cement Israeli control, but in a way that would avoid accusations of formal annexation, the New York Times reported.

The Israeli planning authority is to debate whether to issue a permit for the construction of over six thousand houses in dozens of settlements in the West Bank, Pokój Teraz adds.

These decisions could further worsen the situation in the West Bank, where tensions have already been high since the outbreak of the war in the Gaza Strip: regular Israeli air raids on Palestinian militia groups have intensified, as have attacks by Jewish settlers on Palestinian villages and attacks organized by Palestinians. According to the PA, at least 549 people have been killed by settlers and Israeli soldiers during this time.

They are for peace

Peace Now's website states that it is Israel's largest and longest-running movement advocating for peace through public pressure. “As part of its mission to achieve peace agreements between Israel and its neighbors, Peace Now currently works to bring Israelis to accept the only viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: a two-state solution, which means the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Our activities include demonstrations, lectures, debates, public campaigns, and more,” it says.

The AP agency, citing reports from the organization, reported that the seizure of the 12.7 square kilometer area connects Israeli settlements along a key corridor bordering Jordanwhich Peace Now says undermines the prospect of a contiguous Palestinian state.

Author:asty, tas/kab

Main image source: ATEF SAFADI/PAP/EPA

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