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Israel may revoke 'closed military zone' status of Jordan Valley plots

Jan. 24, 2016 8:17 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 24, 2016 10:28 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Israeli government has announced that it may revoke the closed military zone status of a number of land plots in the Jordan Valley, supposedly returning the land to their original Palestinian owners after decades of confiscation, an Israeli newspaper reported on Sunday.

Israeli daily Haaretz first reported in January 2013 on the case of 14 Palestinian plots of land in the Jordan Valley near the separation wall which were confiscated by the Israeli military in 1967 and had been cultivated by Israelis from the illegal settlement of Mehola since the 1980s.

Haaretz’s expose on the 5,000 dunams (1,235 acres) of land sparked a petition to the Israeli High Court from a group of Palestinians land owners, who demanded to have their agricultural areas returned to them.

But it was only last week that the Israeli government indicated that the closed military zone status of these areas west of the separation wall could be lifted.

Tawfiq Jabrin, a lawyer representing some of the Palestinian plaintiffs, told Haaretz that “the state pretty much confessed to doing something illegal, but they have yet to decide what they want to do with it.

“They did not say they plan to remove the trespassers within six months, but rather they want to hold talks between the sides. There is nothing to talk about, we want our land back.”

The Israeli army didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the case.

The news comes several days after Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced that plans to declare 1,500 dunams (370 acres) of land in the occupied West Bank district of Jericho in the Jordan Valley as "state land" were in their “final stages.”

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.

Areas in the West Bank which get classified as state land by Israeli authorities often end up being included in Jewish-only settlements, which are illegal under international law.

Following COGAT’s announcement on Wednesday, 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.
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