Ramallah readying new UN bid as Ban condemns land expropriation

PA planning Security Council resolution ‘to ‘stop settlements’; UN secretary says Jordan Valley move undermines two-state solution

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat shows a map as he addresses journalists on January 20, 2016 in the West Bank city of Jericho. (AFP/AHMAD GHARABLI)
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat shows a map as he addresses journalists on January 20, 2016 in the West Bank city of Jericho. (AFP/AHMAD GHARABLI)

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon joined international condemnation of a planned Israeli move to appropriate West Bank land near Jericho, saying the action undermines the Israeli commitment to a two-state solution, as a top Palestinian official confirmed Ramallah would again seek a Security Council resolution against settlements.

“The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about reports of the Israeli Government authorizing the declaration of 370 acres in the West Bank, south of Jericho, as so-called ‘state land’,” said a statement on Ban’s website.

“Settlement activities are a violation of international law and run counter to the public pronouncements of the Government of Israel supporting a two-state solution to the conflict,” Ban added.

The comments echoed earlier remarks from the US State Department questioning Israel’s commitment to a two-state solution, after the Defense Ministry said Wednesday that officials approved the expropriation of some 370 acres of West Bank agricultural land near the Palestinian city of Jericho.

The last such move by the Israeli government, in August 2014, involved the appropriation of nearly 1,000 acres of West Bank land near the site of the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens months before.

The Israeli army declared that there was no claim of Palestinian ownership on the land in question, but the action was roundly condemned by the US and European governments.

“We strongly oppose any steps that could accelerate settlement expansion and we believe they’re fundamentally incompatible with a two-state solution and call into question frankly the Israeli government’s commitment to a two-state solution,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Tuesday.

The area, part of which has been worked in recent years by Israeli farmers, is situated north of the West Bank settlement of Almog, in the Jordan Valley, according to an Army Radio report on Tuesday.

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Israel has previously used an 1858 Ottoman law stating that land which lies fallow for several years could revert to government property as the legal basis for such moves.

The procedure was approved by Israeli government officials and was to receive final approval in the coming weeks, according to the report.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the Defense Ministry body serving as the Civil Administration in the West Bank, confirmed the report, saying that the move was awaiting final approval, having already received the green light from senior officials and professional experts.

The move was also roundly condemned by the Palestinians, with chief negotiator Saeb Erekat calling it theft.

Following the announcement, Palestinian Authority officials said they will submit a resolution on Israeli settlements to the UN Security Council, according to US news magazine Newsweek.

“I think we will do it very soon. I can say as soon as we finish our consultations with all concerned parties, including the United States. [Abbas] is fully on board, he is pushing for it,” Erekat, told the magazine.

“The Americans are asking [Netanyahu] to stop settlements and the confiscation of land,” Erekat reportedly said. “The Europeans are doing the same. The Russians, the UN, the Chinese, the whole world and he is defying everyone. So when is this government going to be held accountable?”

A source close to PA President Mahmoud Abbas told the magazine there was no draft resolution yet formulated and it would only be talked about at the end of the month.

In 2012, a Palestinian Authority resolution calling to condemn Israeli settlements failed to gain approval in the Security Council after the US opposed the motion.

However, the White House has signaled in recent months that it may no longer automatically protect Israel in the world body.

AP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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