JERUSALEM (JTA) — The State Department criticized Israel for the “expropriation” of West Bank land around Jericho and near the Dead Sea.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon approved the declaration turning 580 acres into Israeli state land, Army Radio reported Tuesday. The declaration was signed March 10 by the Civil Administration’s head of the government property during a visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority by Vice President Joe Biden.
State Department spokesman John Kirby was asked about the conversion during a briefing Tuesday afternoon with reporters and said the United States was “concerned,” noting it was a “significant increase” over two conversions in 2014: nearly 1,000 acres near Bethlehem in the Gush Etzion bloc and another 250 acres in the same area.
“This decision is, in our view, the latest step in what appears to be an ongoing process of land expropriations, settlement expansions, and legalizations of outposts that is fundamentally undermining the prospects for a two-state solution,” Kirby said. “As we have said before, we strongly oppose any steps that accelerate settlement expansion, which raise serious questions about Israel’s long-term intentions. And as we’ve repeatedly made clear, we continue to look to both sides to demonstrate with actions and policies a genuine commitment to a two-state solution. Actions such as these do just the opposite.”
The United States, along with the United Nations and Peace Now, criticized the proposal to convert the land when it was first made public in January.
The land, now empty desert land, runs on both sides of the major North-South highway Route 1 as it nears the Dead Sea. Some of the land is located inside the Jewish settlement of Almog, which has a plan to build 358 housing units there, according to Peace Now. There is a 45-day appeals process.
Peace Now slammed the declaration in a statement Tuesday.
“This declaration is a de-facto confiscation of Palestinian lands for the purpose of settlement,” the group said. “Instead of trying to calm the situation, the government is adding fuel to the fire and sending a clear message to Palestinians, as well as to Israelis, that it has no intention to work towards peace and two states. Netanyahu proves yet again that settler pressure is more important to him than the deteriorating security situation.”