Justice Minister Tzipi Livni on Monday condemned a government decision to appropriate about 1,000 acres of land near the West Bank settlement of Gva’ot, in the Etzion Bloc, asserting that the move would prove detrimental to Israel’s security and damage the country’s reputation with the international community.
Livni further warned that as a result of the decision, past Israeli settlement activity in the Etzion Bloc may come under renewed scrutiny, subsequently leading to widespread delegitimization of the area’s existing settlements.
“This is a decision that is wrong, inherently,” Livni charged in an interview with Israel Radio. “It is a decision that weakens the state of Israel and harms its security… any such announcement, at this time, or ever, will immediately draw the world’s attention to the Etzion Bloc, and will immediately turn a place like the Etzion Bloc, which is considered within the consensus both in Israel and abroad, into a controversial area.”
Livni went on to criticize government officials for encouraging the appropriation, accusing minsters of advancing narrow political agendas at the expense of Israel’s security concerns.
On Sunday, the army department charged with administering civil affairs in occupied territory said Israel had “declared 4,000 dunams (about 1,000 acres) at [the settlement of] Gvaot” as state land, adding that concerned parties have 45 days to appeal. The IDF stated that there was no claim of Palestinian ownership on the land in question, according to the Ynet news site.
Critics said the move to appropriate the land near the Etzion Bloc, close to the spot where three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped in June, was “a stab in the back” to the Palestinian leadership.
“We have long made clear our opposition to continued settlement activity,” a US official told Reuters. “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.”
“We urge the government of Israel to reverse this decision,” the official said in Washington.
The Palestinian Authority decried the decision as well.
“The Israeli government is committing various crimes against the Palestinian people and their occupied land,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Sunday.
“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.”
PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said the announcement would cause the situation in the region to deteriorate further, and added that settlements in general are illegal, Israel Radio reported.
Some Israeli officials, however, lauded the decision, asserting that the settlement activity was the proper response to “Palestinian terrorism.”
“We continue to build our country as we always have,” Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said during a visit to the Etzion Bloc, Army Radio reported. “For over 120 years, since the dawn of Zionism, we have built and the world did not like our building — not before there was a state, and not after the establishment of Israel,” he said.
“We continue — as Hamas murders, we build.”
Israel accused Hamas of being behind the June 12 abduction and killing of Naftali Fraenkel, 16, Gil-ad Shaar, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19. The three were last seen at a hitchhiking post outside the settlement of Alon Shvut in the Etzion Bloc south of Jerusalem.
The abduction sparked Operation Brother’s Keeper, a massive search to locate the teenagers and a crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank, with hundreds arrested. The bodies of the three teens were found near Hebron on June 30, and a number of Israeli hardliners set up unauthorized West Bank outposts in reaction.
The Etzion settlement council welcomed Sunday’s announcement, and said it was the prelude to expansion of the current Gvaot settlement.
It “paves the way for the new city of Gvaot,” a statement said.
“The goal of the murderers of those three youths was to sow fear among us, to disrupt our daily lives and to call into doubt our right to the land,” it said. “Our response is to strengthen settlement.
The Gvaot settlement is currently home to a number of families and a winery.
Stuart Winer, Lazar Berman and AFP contributed to this report.