JERUSALEM — The U.S. State Department criticized Israel for “expropriation” of West Bank land around Jericho and near the Dead Sea.
The declaration turning the 580 acres of West Bank land into Israeli state land was signed by the Civil Administration’s Head of the Government Property on March 10 during a visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Army Radio reported Tuesday. The declaration reportedly was approved by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, Army Radio reported Tuesday.
State Department spokesman John Kirby addressed the conversion of the West Bank land to state land when asked about it during a briefing with reporters on Tuesday afternoon.
“I can tell you quite frankly we’ve seen these reports. We’re concerned about this reported expropriation of about, I think you said, 580 – it’s 580, I think – acres in the West Bank as state land, which is a significant increase over the prior announcement,” Kirby said, referring to the conversion to state land of nearly 1,000 acres of land near Bethlehem in the Gush Etzion bloc in August, 2014, and another 250 acres in the same area in April 2014.
“This decision is, in our view, the latest step in what appears to be an ongoing process of land expropriations, settlement expansions, and legalizations of outposts that is fundamentally undermining the prospects for a two-state solution,” Kirby said. “As we have said before, we strongly oppose any steps that accelerate settlement expansion, which raise serious questions about Israel’s long-term intentions. And as we’ve repeatedly made clear, we continue to look to both sides to demonstrate with actions and policies a genuine commitment to a two-state solution. Actions such as these do just the opposite.”
The proposal to convert the land was first made public in January, and was criticized by the United States, the United Nations and Peace Now.
The land, which currently is empty desert land, runs on both sides of the major North-South highway Route 1 as it gets near the Dead Sea. Some of the land is located inside the Jewish settlement of Almog, which has a plan to build 358 housing units there, according to Peace Now. There is a 45-day appeals process.
“This declaration is a de-facto confiscation of Palestinian lands for the purpose of settlement. Instead of trying to calm the situation, the government is adding fuel to the fire and sending a clear message to Palestinians, as well as to Israelis, that it has no intention to work towards peace and two states. Netanyahu proves yet again, that settler pressure is more important to him than the deteriorating security situation,” Peace Now said in a statement on Tuesday.