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Israel turbocharges West Bank settlement expansion with largest land grab in decades

Prominent human rights organizations have pointed to Israel's rule over the West Bank in accusing it of the international crime of apartheid, allegations Israel rejects as an attack on its legitimacy.
Israel Palestinians
Posted at 12:40 PM, Jul 03, 2024

Israel has approved the largest seizure of land in the occupied West Bank in over three decades, a settlement tracking group said Wednesday, a move that is likely to worsen already soaring tensions linked to the war in Gaza.

Israel's aggressive expansion in the West Bank reflects the settler community's strong influence in the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the most religious and nationalist in the country's history. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, a settler himself, has turbocharged the policy of expansion, seizing new authorities over settlement development and saying he aims to solidify Israel's hold on the territory and prevent the creation of a Palestinian state.

Authorities recently approved the appropriation of 12.7 square kilometers (nearly 5 square miles) of land in the Jordan Valley, according to a copy of the order obtained by The Associated Press. Data from Peace Now, the tracking group, indicate it was the largest single appropriation approved since the 1993 Oslo accords at the start of the peace process.

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Settlement monitors said the land grab connects Israeli settlements along a key corridor bordering Jordan, a move they said undermines the prospect of a contiguous Palestinian state.

It is in an area of the West Bank where, even before the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, settler violence was displacing communities of Palestinians. That violence has only surged since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack ignited the war in Gaza. Settlers have carried out more than 1,000 attacks on Palestinians since October in the West Bank, causing deaths and damaging property, according to the U.N.

The land seizure, which was approved late last month but only publicized on Wednesday, comes after the seizure of roughly 3 square miles of land in the West Bank in March and 1 square mile in February.

That makes 2024 by far the peak year for Israeli land seizure in the West Bank, Peace Now said.

By declaring them state lands, the government opens them up to being leased to Israelis and prohibits private Palestinian ownership. This year's land seizures are contiguous, linking two already existing settlements to create a solid block near the border with Jordan. The lands were declared to be closed Israeli military zones before they were declared state land.

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The Palestinians view the expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank as the main barrier to any lasting peace agreement, preventing any possibility of a cohesive state. Most of the international community considers settlements illegal or illegitimate.

Israel captured the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war, territories the Palestinians want for a future state. Israel’s current government considers the West Bank to be the historical and religious heartland of the Jewish people and opposes Palestinian statehood.

Israel has built well over 100 settlements across the West Bank, some of which resemble fully developed suburbs or small towns. They are home to over 500,000 Jewish settlers who have Israeli citizenship.

The 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank live under seemingly open-ended Israeli military rule. The Palestinian Authority administers enclaves scattered across the territory, but is barred from operating in 60% of the West Bank, which includes the settlements as well as areas with a population of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.