Israel announces largest appropriation of state land in West Bank since Oslo Accords

‘We are thwarting the danger of a Palestinian state,’ declares Smotrich as Civil Administration also set to approve 6,000 new settlement housing units

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

The West Bank settlement of Ma'ale Efraim in the hills overlooking the Jordan Valley,  February 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
The West Bank settlement of Ma'ale Efraim in the hills overlooking the Jordan Valley, February 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The Civil Administration which manages civilian affairs in the West Bank designated 2,965 acres of land in the Jordan Valley region as state land last month, paving the way for its future development.

According to the Peace Now organization, which campaigns against the West Bank settlements, this is the largest designation of state land since the Oslo Accords in 1993, and follows other recent large designations of state land including 1,976 acres of the Jordan Valley in March, 650 acres east of Jerusalem in February and 42 acres in the Etzion Bloc in April.

Far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who also holds a position in the Defense Ministry with sweeping powers over civilian affairs in the West Bank, lauded the development along with the slated approval of thousands of settlement housing units over the next two days, saying the moves were designed to thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The new designation of state land was issued by the Israel Defense Forces on June 25 but was only published on Wednesday, and involves land some 50 kilometers north of Jericho near the Yafit and Ma’ale Efraim settlements, immediately adjacent to the 1,976 acres of state land that was designated as such in March.

The amount of land declared to belong to the state in 2024 — some 5,852 acres as of July — far outstrips any other year this century, according to Peace Now figures. The highest previous total was 1,181 acres in 2014.

Declaring tracts of the West Bank as state land means they can be slated for future residential development, among other possible uses, but cannot be used to expropriate private Palestinian land which is formally registered in the land registry.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, the head of the Religious Zionism Party, at a conference of the Israeli newspaper Makor Rishon, in Jerusalem, June 30, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The new designation of state land in the West Bank comes as the Civil Administration’s Higher Planning Committee began deliberations on Wednesday that will lead to the approval through different phases of the planning process of over 6,000 housing units in the West Bank settlements.

The plans include the legalization of the Kedem Arava illegal outpost south of Jericho, close to the Beit Hogla outpost which the government decided to legalize in February 2023, where 315 units are planned.

Another 1,000 units are set to be approved for the Gvaot settlement west of the Etzion Bloc, which currently has just 60 units.

Of the 6,000 units set to be approved on Thursday, 3,623 will still need to pass through several more approval stages, while 2,393 units will be on the verge of final approval.

Applauding the new round of planning approvals, Smotrich’s office noted that during his time as a minister in the Defense Ministry, some 24,000 housing units have been approved through the planning or construction process.

According to the minister’s statement, only 20,000 units were approved in the previous three years from 2020 to 2022.

“Thank God, we are building and developing the settlements and thwarting the danger of a Palestinian state,” Smotrich, who heads the Religious Zionism party, said in reference to the 6,000 units slated for approval.

He noted the government’s legalization last week of five illegal West Bank outposts and lauded the recent designation of state land in the Jordan Valley as well.

“This is a combined, massive action whose goal is to thwart the Palestinian state. We are always, and even more so at this time, committed to the development of this good land and to thwart the discourse on a Palestinian state that would reward terrorism,” said Smotrich.

Illustrative: Palestinian construction workers at a building site in the Israeli settlement of Efrat in the West Bank, on September 29, 2020. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Peace Now denounced both the new designation of state land and the pending approval of the settlement housing units, saying that it showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Smotrich were set on fighting “against the entire world and against the interests of the people of Israel for the benefit of a handful of settlers who receive thousands of dunams” of land.

“It is clear that the primary goal of the current government, from its decisions to its actions, is the dismantling of any possibility for a political solution between Israelis and Palestinians… These actions not only hinder the resolution of the conflict but also diminish the hope for a better future,” the group stated. “This is a government without any public support, and it must be ousted in order to save us from total destruction and perpetual war.”

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