WASHINGTON: The United States urged Israel 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 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 angered Palestinians and alarmed Israeli peace campaigners.
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.
The British government said it deplored the Israeli decision, saying the move would seriously damage Israel’s international reputation.
“The U.K. deplores the Israeli government’s expropriation of 988 acres of land around the settlement of Etzion,” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in a statement Monday.
“This is a particularly ill-judged decision that comes at a time when the priority must be to build on the cease-fire in Gaza. It will do serious damage to Israel’s standing in the international community.”
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.
“This is not a positive step – it contradicts international law and will have negative consequences on the peace process,” a Foreign Ministry statement in Cairo said.
Negotiators are expected to return to Cairo within a month in order to discuss crunch issues such as Hamas’ demands for a port and an airport and the release of prisoners, as well as Israel’s call for militants in the Palestinian territory to be disarmed.
The Foreign Ministry did not mention the Gaza truce talks but insisted that Israel’s planned land grab in the West Bank would be “an obstacle” to a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.