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Israel to confiscate vast tract of land in Jericho

Jan. 20, 2016 4:22 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 21, 2016 6:51 P.M.)
A tract of land in Jericho. (MaanImages/Killian Redden, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israel is set to declare 1,500 dunams (370 acres) of land in the occupied West Bank district of Jericho as "state land," Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced Wednesday.

The plans were revealed earlier in the day by Israeli Army Radio, which said the land was located north of the illegal Israeli settlement of Almog and had been used by settlers over the past 20 years.

COGAT confirmed the plans were in their "final stages," and said they were in accordance with a political ratification.

Israeli Army Radio reportedly said: "This is a very sensitive issue which will likely garner harsh critique from Europe and the United States, and of course from the Palestinian Authority."

The move is the largest declaration of "state land" since August 2014, when Israel claimed 4,000 dunams (988 acres) of land near the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, sparking international outcry.

Following Wednesday's announcement, Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now said in a statement that continued land confiscation by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government was a "diplomatic catastrophe."

"The government's decision is another step on the way to destroy the possibility for a two state solution. Netanyahu is being dragged by Naftali Bennett and begins a silent annexation of area C," the group said, referring to the area of the occupied West Bank under full control of the Israeli military.

The announcement comes just two days after US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro made a stringing criticism of Israeli policy in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Shapiro said the US was "concerned and perplexed" by Israeli policies such as state support for illegal settlements, land use in the West Bank, and a legal double standard for Palestinians and Israelis.

He expressed amazement that "huge tracts of land are claimed by Israel as 'state' lands, or have been transferred into the projected boundaries of settlement councils."

Meanwhile, he said, "nearly all of Area C, which compromises 60 percent of the West Bank, is effectively restricted for any Palestinian development."

He said that the creation of two states would "become more and more difficult if Israel plans to continue to expand the footprint of settlements."

He added: "The question we ask is a simple one: what is Israel’s strategy?"

In December, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that key Israeli policies -- including control over Area C and settlement activity -- were "imperiling" the viability of a two-state solution.

While Kerry acknowledged that Netanyahu had stated his commitment to a two-state solution, he said it was "important that that not become a slogan, not become a throwaway phrase -- that it becomes a policy."
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