A senior Palestinian official and an Israeli left-wing group dedicated to preventing Jews from living in Judea and Samaria (also called the West Bank) are blasting an Israeli announcement Sunday to set aside land near Bethlehem for the future construction of homes for Israelis.
Despite the outcry, settlement proponents say that the Israeli government has not fulfilled previous housing promises, suggesting that the announcement may be more about domestic public relations than an actual housing project.
The anti-settlement group Peace Now described Sunday’s announcement as an “unprecedented land confiscation” and warned it could “dramatically change the reality in the … area.”
Peace Now also said the “Israeli government stabs [Palestinian Authority] President [Mahmoud] Abbas and the moderate Palestinian forces in the back, proving again that violent [sic] delivers Israeli concessions while nonviolence results in settlement expansion.”
Nearly 1,000 acres in an area near Bethlehem where thousands of Israelis already live were declared on Sunday to be Israeli “state land,” a move Israel Radio characterized as a government response to the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas gunmen in June, Reuters reported.
The administrative decision opens the door to future potential construction, though no actual building plan was issued.
Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Abbas, said, "This decision will lead to more instability. This will only inflame the situation after the war in Gaza.”
While the U.S. government had not issued a response as of this writing, previous Israeli approvals of housing for Jews in the West Bank has been met by harsh criticism by Obama administration officials. In addition, the U.S. government has pressured Israel repeatedly to freeze construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem – part of what Israel considers to be its undivided capital – as a gesture to restart peace talks with the Palestinians. Some Palestinians would like to have a state in the West Bank and Gaza with east Jerusalem as the capital. Others, like Hamas which rules Gaza, aim for the destruction of Israel altogether.
While the U.S. and European allies censure Israel over building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, many devout Jews and Christians view Judea and Samaria as Israel's biblical heartland where some of the key events in biblical Jewish history unfolded and thus an area that should continue to be under Israeli control.
Israel’s Arutz Sheva – a right wing news service based in Judea and Samaria – reported, “Extreme leftist groups and Arab residents of Judea and Samaria will have a month and a half to submit opposition in the courts” in response to the government decision.
It further observed based on past experience that the “the process may take long years to complete.”
Arutz Sheva noted the example of the Samaria community of Beit El, where “residents are still waiting for the fulfillment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's promise to build 300 housing units” last year.
Yisrael Medad, a Samaria-based blogger who follows the history of the settlement enterprise told TheBlaze on Sunday, “The land was adjudicated some two decades ago as non-private property and declared ‘state lands,’ a category already recognized in the original League of Nations decision of July 1922 that guaranteed, in Article 6 of the Palestine Mandate accord, that ‘The Administration of Palestine...shall encourage...close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes.’”
Reuters quoted a local Palestinian mayor who said Palestinians owned the land and grew olive trees there, but provided no further details.
However, Medad maintained that “no local Arab resident has claims to that land nor are there any buildings or such there.”
“Since Jordan was, between 1948-1967, an illegal occupation power, following the 1967 defensive war Israel waged against continued Arab aggression, that right, among others, reverted to the Jewish people,” Medad told TheBlaze via email in response to a question. “For Jews to build and reside in the territory of the Jewish homeland is not only legal but natural and just.”
Peace Now said the Israeli government aimed to significantly expand a settlement known as Gevaot where currently 10 families live.
However, Israel has said that the construction – if any begins – would be part of a nearby existing settlement known as Alon Shvut, Reuters reported.