JNF debates enabling purchase of Palestinian lands in West Bank

In dramatic potential policy change, century-old environmental organization reportedly could spend millions to buy Palestinian-owned lands in and around settlements

View of the Jewish settlement of Eli, in the West Bank, on January 17, 2021. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)
View of the Jewish settlement of Eli, in the West Bank, on January 17, 2021. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

The Jewish National Fund on Sunday held a discussion on the possibility of purchasing Palestinian lands in the West Bank for settlement expansion purposes.

The debate was seen as a major policy change for the century-old organization, though the characterization was rejected by the JNF, which maintained it has long operated in the West Bank.

“Throughout the years and till this very day, KKL-JNF has been operating in all parts of the land of Israel, including Judea and Samaria [the biblical name for the West Bank]. The preliminary discussion, that took place today revolved around general principals of action, based on a legal opinion that was requested and received during the previous management term,” it said.

“At this stage, there is no intention of opening up a new area in Judea and Samaria. Regardless, KKL-JNF’s policy remains that every contribution for every project in Israel is confirmed by and coordinated in advance with its donor, in accordance with the laws of the donor’s country,” it said.

Further discussions on the matter will be held before the board of directors votes, it said.

Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) was considering buying private Palestinian land in Area C of the West Bank, potentially for hundreds of millions of dollars, for the development of existing settlements, the Walla news site reported Thursday, citing a Hebrew draft resolution it had received.

The West Bank Jewish settlement of Ma’ale Efraim in the Jordan Valley, June 30, 2020. (AP Photo/ Oded Balilty, File)

The organization will not construct new settlements, but work in existing ones with education, environmental and other projects, the report said. Land purchases will be conducted only inside the jurisdiction of settlements or next to them.

The proposal cited a previous memorandum that said KKL could operate in all areas under Israel’s control, including in the West Bank.

KKL (a separate organization from JNF-USA) has until now not officially operated in the West Bank, and has worked through other entities there on some limited projects, said the report, which was also carried in English on the Axios news site.

The organization’s new global chairman, Avraham Duvdevani, took over in the fall of 2020 and is acting to change the policy. Duvdevani is part of the right’s gradual growing influence over Zionist organizations like KKL. The move came in response to a push from pro-settlement lobbyists and the organization tried to keep it low-key, the report said.

Foreign donations will only be used to fund such activity if the transactions are legal in the donating country, the report said.

KKL expanding activities into the West Bank could further complicate Israel’s ties with US President Joe Biden’s administration, which is expected to resume the traditional American stance against settlements. It could also affect the Jewish state’s ties with the rest of the international community, which views the settlements as illegal.

Asked about the report in a briefing Thursday, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said, “It is critical to avoid unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and undercut the efforts to achieve a two state solution. This includes annexation, settlement building, demolitions, incitement and payments for terrorists.”

KKL, established in 1901 to buy and develop land for Jewish settlement and best known for the hundreds of millions of trees it has planted throughout Israel, serves as the Jewish people’s custodian for some 15 percent of the land in the country, the management of which is carried out by the Israel Lands Authority.

A kind of NGO officially registered as a company for the benefit of the public, KKL works in the fields of forestry, water, education, community development, tourism, and research and development. The World Zionist Organization is its parent body.

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