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Palestinian officials slam Israeli land confiscation in West Bank

Aug. 31, 2014 8:43 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 2, 2014 9:51 A.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat called for diplomatic action against Israel in response to its move to annex 4,000 dunams (1,000 acres) of Palestinian land south of Bethlehem in the West Bank on Sunday.

"The Israeli government is committing various crimes against the Palestinian people and their occupied land," Erekat told AFP.

"The international community should hold Israel accountable as soon as possible for its crimes and raids against our people in Gaza and the ongoing Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's policy of constant settlement expansion on land the Palestinians claim for a future state is deemed illegal by the European Union and an "obstacle to peace" by the United States and opposed by both.

"Today's announcement clearly represents Israel's deliberate intent to wipe out any Palestinian presence on the land and to willfully impose a de facto one-state solution," senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi said.

Some 550,000 Israelis live among 2.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, territory that Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed in a move never recognized by the international community.

One-state solution

"As far as we know, this declaration is unprecedented in its scope since the 1980s and can dramatically change the reality in the Gush Etzion and the Bethlehem areas," Peace Now said.

"Peace Now views this declaration as proof that Prime Minister Netanyahu does not aspire for a new 'Diplomatic Horizon,' but rather he continues to put obstacles to the two-state vision and promote a one-state solution.

"By declaring another 4,000 dunams as state land, the Israeli government stabs (Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas) and the moderate Palestinian forces in the back, proving again that violence delivers Israeli concessions while nonviolence results in settlement expansion," it said.

Peace Now official Hagit Ofran told AFP that the legal basis for such land confiscation goes back to an 1858 ruling by the region's Ottoman rulers.

"We are afraid that Netanyahu will carry out a lot of expansion because of the pressure he fells from his right wing and the feeling that the (Gaza) war did not end up with many successes," he said.

Since mid-June, Israeli authorities have announced more than 1,472 new settlement homes, slated to house around 6,000 Jewish settlers, across the West Bank, including around Bethlehem.

Israeli settlements are generally built on the hills in and around Palestinian towns and villages, and critics charge they are strategically located so as to encircle them and make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report.
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