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US condemns 'unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions'

In major shift, KKL-JNF said set to okay purchasing W. Bank land for settlements

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

Illustrative: Construction work in the Dagan neighborhood of the settlement of Efrat, in the West Bank on July 22, 2019. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Illustrative: Construction work in the Dagan neighborhood of the settlement of Efrat, in the West Bank on July 22, 2019. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

The Jewish National Fund is reportedly expected to officially authorize the purchase of land in the West Bank, potentially marking a major policy change for the century-old organization.

Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) will discuss 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. Area C comprises parts of the West Bank controlled by Israel.

KKL’s management is expected to hold talks next week on a proposal to regulate the organization’s activities in the West Bank and allow it to buy land there and expand and develop settlements, the report said, citing a Hebrew draft resolution it obtained.

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 said in response to the report, referring to the West Bank by its biblical names, “Over the years we worked everywhere in Israel including in Judea and Samaria. The meeting on Sunday is intended to approve policy principles based on a legal opinion we obtained. At this stage we have no intention to establish a new area of development in Judea and Samaria.”

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 breifing 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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