JERUSALEM: Israel has carried out a new land appropriation in the occupied West Bank, the Haaretz daily said yesterday, in a move that could complicate efforts to extend troubled peace talks with the Palestinians.
Haaretz said the Defence Ministry declared nearly 250 acres of territory in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc just south of Jerusalem “state land”.
Asked by Reuters about the report, the ministry declined to comment but said it might have something to say in the coming days. The land appropriation, the left-leaning newspaper said, was the largest in years and could eventually lead to the expansion of several settlements and authorisation of a settler outpost built without Israeli government permission in 2001.
The measure, which falls short of annexing the land to Israel, is based on an Israeli interpretation of an Ottoman-era law that allowed the confiscation of tracts that had not been planted or cultivated for several years in a row.
Haaretz said the heads of nearby Palestinian villages that claimed the land as theirs were informed of the move last week and have 45 days to appeal.
It was not immediately clear whether the reported appropriation was part of sanctions that Israel has begun to impose in response to the April 1 signing by Palestinians of 15 international conventions and agreements during the current crisis in US-brokered peace negotiations.
Mohammed Shtayyeh, a senior official in the Palestinian negotiating team, said the move showed Israel was more concerned with expanding its control of West Bank land than in peace talks.
“(The Israeli government) will do everything possible in order to turn its occupation into annexation of our land. The decision ... is simply a reflection of (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu’s will to strengthen settlements and bury the two-state solution,” he said.
Speaking before the Haaretz report appeared, Israel’s chief peace negotiator, Tzipi Livni said on the YNet news site that she is optimistic the statehood negotiations will be extended beyond the original April 29 deadline for a deal. “I believe that we are close enough to a decision on the part of both leaderships, encouraged by the Americans, to continue the negotiations,” she said.