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Israel Moves to Make its Biggest Land Grab in 30 Years, in Palestine's West Bank

A general view of constructions in the Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim and Kedar in the West Bank. The practice, against international law, continues today. Photograph by Mahmoud illean. Copyright: Demotix

A general view of constructions in the Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim and Kedar in the West Bank. The practice, against international law, continues today. Photograph by Mahmoud illean. Copyright: Demotix

Israel's decision to annex more Palestinian land in the Occupied West Bank has sparked international condemnation from human rights organizations, governments and activists.

The Israeli government announced that it will annex 990 acres of Palestinian Territory near the Jewish settlement of Gva'ot, west of Bethlehem. It has declared them ‘State Land’, leaving way for more settlements considered illegal under international law.

On numerous occasions, the United Nations declared that Israel's construction of settlements constitutes a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention (relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War). As of 2012, there were 344,391 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem.

Map of West Bank area West of Bethlemen showing Israeli settlements (blue), Palestinian villages and towns (brown) and the area declared as State Land (red). (Peace Now)

Map of West Bank area West of Bethlemen showing Israeli settlements (blue), Palestinian villages and towns (brown) and the area declared as State Land (red). (Peace Now)

Israeli Human Rights NGO, Peace Now, said that this is the largest appropriation of Palestinian land in three decades:

As far as we know, this declaration is unprecedented in its scope since the 1980's and can dramatically change the reality in the Gush Etzion and the Bethlehem area

Peace Now offered some historical perspective to the settlement of Gva'ot:

Gva'ot was established in 1984 as a Military Base between the Palestinian villages of Al Jab'a and Nahhalin. During the 90’s, the soldiers were replaced by Yeshiva students that occupied the 30 caravans on site, and in 1998 the site was included within the official Municipal Borders of the settlement of Alon Shvut, which is located 3 km away. Recently, some 10 families moved in Gvaot and established an education institution on site.

Human Rights Watch deputy director for Middle East/North Africa, Nadim Houry, as well as its European Media Director, Andrew Stroehlein, condemned the move on Twitter, respectively:

Human Rights Watch said that the new settlements plan, if implemented, would amount to a war crime:

Israel should immediately reverse its illegal appropriation of a large swath of land in the occupied West Bank south of Jerusalem, Human Rights Watch said today. The appropriation, announced on September 1, 2014, paves the way for substantial settlement construction near the West Bank town of Bethlehem. Transferring civilian settlers into occupied territory would amount to a war crime.

This condemnation was joined by dozens of human rights NGOs, including Amnesty International, Jewish Voice for Peace as well as numerous governmental bodies and governments including the United Nations, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO, or Palestinian Authority), the USA, the UK, Egypt, France, Spain, Turkey, Ireland and the European Union. A good summary of many governments’ responses can be found in this Huffington Post coverage.

Not surprisingly, Palestinians, many Israelis as well as international observers are seeing this as yet another proof that Israel isn't interested in a two-state solution.

Belal Damour, a Gaza-based doctor, tweeted to his more than 82,000 followers:

In his op-ed for Israel's Haaretz, Israeli journalist Chemi Shalev wrote that:

It is becoming increasingly hard to refute the argument that over the decades, the peace process has served as a cover for de-facto annexation and denial of Palestinian rights.

The Guardian's Ben White says that the blame also lies on the futility of symbolic condemnations rather than real action:

Jadaliya co-editor and Human Rights lawyer Noura Erakat accuses Israel of standardizing land theft of Palestinian territory:

Given that not two weeks have passed since the devastating war in Gaza left over 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 70 Israelis dead, mostly soldiers, the timing of the Israeli move in the West Bank is being treated with suspicion:

Christian Science Monitor journalist Dan Murphy claimed that this could only have been Netanyahu's plan all along:

If you're still new to the settlements topic, this AJ + labs video summarizes it in simple terms:

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