Israel has announced the construction of its biggest settlement in 30 years, drawing Palestinian condemnation and a US rebuke
Almost 1,000 acres of land in the Etzion Jewish settlement bloc near Bethlehem were declared “state land, on the instructions of the political echelon” by the military-run Civil Administration.
“We urge the government of Israel to reverse this decision,” a State Department official said in Washington, calling the move “counterproductive” to efforts to achieve a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
Israel Radio said the step was taken in response to the kidnapping and killing of three Jewish teens by Hamas militants in the area in June.
Tensions stoked by the incident quickly spread to Israel’s border with Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, and the two sides engaged in a seven-week war that ended on Tuesday with an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire.
The notice, published on Sunday by the Israeli military, gave no reason for the land appropriation decision.
Peace Now, which opposes Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank, territory the Palestinians seek for a state, said the appropriation was meant to turn a site where 10 families now live adjacent to a Jewish seminary into a permanent settlement.
Construction of a major settlement at the location, known as “Gevaot”, has been mooted by Israel since 2000. Last year, the government invited bids for the building of 1,000 housing units at the site.
Peace Now said the land seizure was the largest announced by Israel in the West Bank since the 1980s and that anyone with ownership claims had 45 days to appeal. A local Palestinian mayor said Palestinians owned the tracts and harvested olive trees on them.
Israel has come under intense international criticism over its settlement activities, which most countries regard as illegal under international law and a major obstacle to the creation of a viable Palestinian state in any future peace deal.
Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, called on Israel to cancel the appropriation.
“This decision will lead to more instability. This will only inflame the situation after the war in Gaza,” said Mr Abu Rdainah.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu broke off US-brokered peace talks with Mr Abbas in April after the Palestinian leader reached a reconciliation deal with Hamas, the Islamist movement that dominates the Gaza Strip.
In a series of remarks after an open-ended ceasefire halted the Gaza war, Mr Netanyahu repeated his position that Mr Abbas would have to sever his alliance with Hamas for a peace process with Israel to resume.
The administration of President Barack Obama, who has been at odds with Netanyahu over settlements since taking office in 2009, pushed back against the land decision. It was the latest point of contention between Washington and its top Middle East ally Israel, which also differ over Iran nuclear talks.
“We have long made clear our opposition to continued settlement activity,” said the State Department official.
“This announcement, like every other settlement announcement Israel makes, planning step they approve and construction tender they issue, is counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians.”
After the collapse of the last round of US-brokered peace talks, American officials cited settlement construction as one of the main reasons for the breakdown, while also faulting the Palestinians for signing a series of international treaties and conventions.
Israel has said construction at Gevaot would not constitute the establishment of a new settlement because the site is officially designated a neighbourhood of an existing one – Alon Shvut, several miles down the road.
Some 500,000 Israelis live among 2.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territory that the Jewish state captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
Jerusalem (AFP) – Finance Minister Yair Lapid warned Tuesday that Israel was eroding its international support, as criticism abroad mounted of its biggest grab of Palestinian land since the 1980s.
Lapid complained the security cabinet had not been consulted about Sunday’s announcement of the confiscation of 400 hectares (988 acres) of land in the occupied West Bank to pave the way for further settlement building.
“The announcement, which wasn’t brought to the security cabinet, regarding 900 acres of land for building in Gush Etzion (between Jerusalem and Hebron) harms the State of Israel,” Lapid told an economic conference in Tel Aviv.
“Maintaining the support of the world was already challenging, so why was it so urgent to create another crisis with the United States and the world?” he asked.
Lapid, a centrist within the governing coalition, was alluding to widespread international condemnation of the high Palestinian civilian death toll during Israel’s 50-day war in Gaza.
However, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, himself a resident of Tekoa in the Gush Etzion settlement zone, defended the expropriation.
“The official policy of the government of Israel is first of all to focus on those settlement blocs which it is understood will under any agreement to come remain under Israeli sovereignty,” he said in remarks broadcast by public radio.
“I think that Gush Etzion expresses the broadest consensus in Israeli society and it is understood by everyone that in any agreement Gush Etzion will be part of the state of Israel.”
But Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, a cabinet moderate who served as chief negotiator in abortive US-brokered talks with the Palestinians, slammed the land grab.
“It weakens Israel and threatens its security,” she said.
On the other side, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, whose far-right Jewish Home party draws much of its support from the settler lobby, defended the move as retaliation for the murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank.
“It’s 120 years that the world has opposed our construction, and we’ll continue to do it,” he said, equating settlement building in the West Bank with construction in the years before Israel’s creation in 1948.
The European Union on Monday condemned the Israeli move.
“We condemn the new appropriation of land in the West Bank, relating to plans for further settlement expansion, announced by the Israeli government on Sunday,” it said in a statement distributed by EU missions in Tel Aviv and occupied east Jerusalem.
“At this delicate moment, any action that might undermine stability and the prospect of constructive negotiations following the ceasefire in Gaza should be avoided,” it said.
– Strong US, UN criticism –
The international community regards all Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including annexed east Jerusalem, as illegal, and Sunday’s announcement drew strong US and UN criticism.
“This announcement, like every other settlement announcement Israel makes, planning step they approve, and construction tender they issue, is counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians,” a US State Department official said.
“We urge the government of Israel to reverse this decision.”
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was “alarmed” by Israel’s plans, his spokesman said.
“The seizure of such a large swathe of land risks paving the way for further settlement activity, which -– as the United Nations has reiterated on many occasions -– is illegal under international law and runs totally counter to the pursuit of a two-state solution,” the spokesman said.
By Agence France-Presse
The United States urged Israel on Monday to reverse its latest plan to seize Palestinian land in the Bethlehem area of the occupied West Bank.
“This announcement, like every other settlement announcement Israel makes, planning step they approve, and construction tender they issue, is counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians,” a State Department official said.
“We urge the government of Israel to reverse this decision.”
The plan, announced Sunday, foresees the expropriation of of 988 acres (400 hectares) of Palestinian land by the Israel government.
According to the Israeli military, the move was a political decision made after the June killing of three Israeli teenagers snatched in the same area, known to Israelis as the Gush Etzion settlement bloc.
Israel has named three Palestinians from the southern West Bank city of Hebron as being behind the murders.
The plan has angered the Palestinians and alarmed Israeli peace campaigners.
The move has also been slammed by Egypt, which last week mediated a permanent truce between Israel and the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip to end a 50-day war — the deadliest in years.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policy of settlement expansion on land the Palestinians claim for a future state is deemed illegal by the European Union and an “obstacle to peace” by the United States.
It made me laugh, but coming from a highly reputable writer, it also made me cry.
Just before the most recent Gaza ceasefire, Downing Street confirmed it was conducting a review of arms sales to Israel after David Cameron said the UN was right to condemn the shelling of schools as a “moral outrage”. Some licenses, it said, would be revoked if there were a substantial resumption of bombings.
The ceasefire ended long ago, and the Israeli bombings have claimed hundreds more innocent victims, bringing the total of dead children to over 560. But UK arms sales to Israel continue unabated. Why?
When Baroness Warsi resigned from David Cameron’s cabinet, the event was reported in a major Indian publication under the headline: “Will Britain’s powerful Zionist lobby forgive Sayeeda Warsi?”
The article made me think that one reason why her colleagues and their mates in the media were so keen to dismiss the once-rising Muslim star as “incompetent” (unlike, say, IDS) and “over-promoted” (unlike, say, Grant Shapps) is because she dared lift the corner of a veil shrouding the pro-Israel lobby in Westminster.
It also made me wonder why this was the case, and also why the all-powerful nuclear-armed State of Israel was asserting itself over the Palestinians so murderously, killing hundreds of children without as much as a slap on the wrist from the British government.
Is there a guiding hand behind the strategy of making people so afraid of being accused of anti-Semitism (as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown has explained so clearly) that they will feel unable to use their right to free speech, while at the same time alarming British Jews with the ludicrous spectre of “Germany in the 1930s” and “another holocaust”?
In the US, the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is acknowledged to be as powerful when it comes to foreign policy as the National Rifle Association (NRA) is in preventing any hint of gun control. Both operate similarly: they keep their sights on every member of the US’s notoriously venal and corruptible Congress, and make it abundantly clear to them that any deviation from total support from Israel will be harshly dealt with.
This approach (brilliantly exposed in the recent issue of The New Yorker) has helped AIPAC prevent Barack Obama doing what he really wants, which is to speak out about Benyamin Netanyahu’s murderous excesses. It also manoeuvred the Senate into approving billions for Israel with only six people in the room.
I never imagined there was an AIPAC equivalent here in the UK, not least because there are only around 250,000 Jews in this country – 0.5 per cent of the population. Another reason is that it deliberately keeps a vastly lower profile. But sheltering under the harmless-sounding titles of Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) and Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) the pro-Israel lobby is incredibly powerful.
The late Conservative historian Robert Rhodes James described CFI as “the largest organisation in western Europe dedicated to the cause of the people of Israel”. And you may have never heard the name Stuart Polak, but the director of the CFI is possibly Westminster’s most effective operators.
It seems likely that Polak’s influence was a significant factor in the government’s refusal to describe Israel’s bombing of Gaza, including attacks on UNWRA, as “disproportionate”. Although surely this would have been the mildest of adjectives in view of what we have been seeing on our television screens every day.
In June 2009, six months after the Cast Lead operation against Gaza in which hundreds of civilians were bombed by Israel (sounds familiar?), David Cameron addressed the very grand annual lunch of the CFI at the Dorchester. Looking at his speech, my fellow journalist Peter Oborne was shocked to see no reference to Gaza whatsoever.
In an eerie echo of current events, Oborne noted that “Cameron went out of his way to praise Israel because it ‘strives to protect innocent life’,” and recalls how he “found it impossible to reconcile the remarks made by the young Conservative leader with the numerous reports of human rights abuses in Gaza.
“Afterwards,” he adds, “I said as much to some Tory MPs. They looked at me as if I was distressingly naive, drawing my attention to the very large number of Tory donors in the audience.”
Oborne also explains that “The Israel lobby has enjoyed superb contacts at the very top of British politics, and never hesitated to use them.” And it would seem that he’s right. At least half of the members of the shadow cabinet were members of the Conservative Friends of Israel before the 2010 election.
With this in mind, it seems too coincidental that there was little to no criticism of Israel after the illegal and deadly invasion of the Lebanon in 2004, or much response to a report into the war crimes committed during 2009/9’s Cast Lead operation. Israel has admitted using white phosphorous during this operation. The chemical burns away at the skin, and its use is illegal under international law.
Michael Mates told Oborne on the record that “the pro-Israel lobby in our body politic is the most powerful political lobby. There’s nothing to touch them.” Mates added: “Their lobbying is done very discreetly, in very high places, which may be why it is so effective.”
Maybe it is for this covert use of power that has led Aaronovitch to wonder where the UK’s Jewish lobby is. But for many of us, it is becoming clearer and clearer that it has been here all along.
A reference in this article to the Conservative Friends of Israel was previously hyperlinked to the website of an entirely unconnected group, the Christian Friends of Israel. We are sorry for the error.
Israeli soldiers invaded on Tuesday, at dawn, the southern West Bank city of Hebron, and initiated the destruction of a dairy factory that belongs to the Islamic Charitable Society for Orphans, in the city.
Eyewitnesses said that dozens of soldiers, accompanied by armored bulldozers, broke into the dairy factory in the ar-Rahma neighborhood, east of Hebron, and declared the area a closed military zone, preventing journalists and residents from entering it.
Sheikh Hatem al-Bakri, head of the administrative board of the Islamic Charitable Society, said the factory provides the needed means for caring for the orphans in the Hebron District.
“What is happening is an attack on the orphans themselves: several months ago, the army confiscated various machines with an estimated monetary value of $2 million,” al-Bakri told the Maan News Agency. “This factory is essential for the services, and charitable aid we provide.”
He added that the society contacted its legal advisor, lawyer Jawad Boulos, who informed them that Israel alleges the factory, and the charitable society are “run by Hamas”.
“However, the children, the orphans, are the ones who pay the price for Israel’s assaults and allegations,” Boulos stated.
The Charitable Society decided to open this factory in order to fund services it provides to the orphans, especially with the rising costs amidst the tough conditions in the Palestinian territories, under Israel’s illegitimate occupation.
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