UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Israel on Tuesday to reverse its decision to appropriate land in the West Bank, describing the move as “an impediment to the two-state solution” in the Middle East.
The appeal came after Israel declared 234 hectares (around 600 acres) of West Bank territory as state land, the biggest reclassification of land since in 2014, according to the settlement watchdog Peace Now.
“Such actions appear to point toward an increase in settlement activities and demonstrate that Israel is continuing to push forward in the consolidation of its control of the West Bank,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
“Settlements are illegal under international law and the secretary-general urges the government of Israel to halt and reverse such actions in the interest of a just and comprehensive peace and a just final status agreement,” he said.
The United Nations has repeatedly called on Israel to halt the expansion of West Bank settlements, which it views as an attempt to scuttle plans for a future Palestinian state.
The Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), which is responsible for implementing government policies in the Palestinian territories, said the move was taken “in accordance with the decision of the political level.”
Peace Now said the latest declaration was signed on March 10 as US Vice President Joe Biden wrapped up a visit to Israel and the West Bank, though COGAT refused to comment on the timing.
In 2010, Israel unveiled plans to build 1,600 new homes in annexed East Jerusalem during a previous Biden visit, causing a diplomatic spat between the White House and Jerusalem.
Peace Now said the land — situated south of the Palestinian city of Jericho and close to the Dead Sea — could help link up and potentially expand local Jewish settlements.
“This declaration is a de-facto confiscation of Palestinian lands for the purpose of settlement,” it said in a statement. “Instead of trying to calm the situation, the government is adding fuel to the fire.”
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 abduction and killing of three Israeli teens months earlier. 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.
Israel has previously used an 1858 Ottoman law stating that land that lies fallow for several years could revert to government property as the legal basis for such moves.