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U.S. calls on Israel to reverse land appropriation

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JERUSALEM (JTA) — The United States called on Israel to cancel the government appropriation of West Bank land in the Etzion bloc, while Israeli ministers praised and panned the decision.

“This announcement, like every other settlement announcement Israel makes, is counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians,” an unnamed U.S. government official told Reuters on Monday. “We urge the government of Israel to reverse this decision.”

The Israel Defense Forces Civil Administration on Sunday said it would appropriate nearly 1,000 acres in the Gush Etzion bloc and convert it in to state land.

The Gva’ot settlement in the western area of Gush Etzion is located on the land adjacent to the Alon Shvut settlement. Gva’ot was built without zoning permits. It was established originally as a military base in 1984.

Ten families currently live on the site and more than 500 housing units are under construction.

The IDF said there is no Palestinian claim on the land, but objections against the decision can be filed for the next 45 days.

Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, head of the Hatnua party, opposed the decision, telling Israel Radio Monday that “it weakens the State of Israel and hurts our security.”

Livni agrees with the government stance that the land in Gush Etzion should remain in Israel’s hands under any final peace deal. But, she said, the announcement turns settlement blocs such as Gush Etzion “that lie within the consensus both at home and abroad into areas of controversy.”

Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said the decision to turn the area into state land was a response to the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens from a traffic junction in Gush Etzion in June.

“This was always the Zionist answer to Arab terrorism for over 100 years,” Bennett told Israel Radio.

Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, which is part of the government coalition, on Monday visited the Makor Hayim yeshiva in Gush Etzion that two of the slain teens — Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaar — had attended.

“What we did yesterday was a display of Zionism. Building is our answer to murder,” Bennett said during the visit.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called on the international community to initiate diplomatic action against Israel over the decision.

“The Israeli government is committing various crimes against the Palestinian people and their occupied land,” Erekat told the French news agency AFP. “The international community should hold Israel accountable as soon as possible for its crimes and raids against our people in Gaza and the ongoing Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”

Nabil Abu-Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said the decision would “bring about a further deterioration” in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Peace Now in a statement called the appropriation plan “unprecedented in scope.”

“By declaring another 4,000 dunams as state land, the Israeli government stabs President Abbas and the moderate Palestinian forces in the back, proving again that violence delivers Israeli concessions while nonviolence results in settlement expansion,” the Peace Now statement said.

The Prime Minister’s Office of Israel has not responded to criticism of the decision.

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