Britain has strongly condemned Israel’s decision to expropriate almost 1,000 acres of Palestinian land on the West Bank as a “response” to the kidnap and murder of three teenagers in June, warning it would serious damage the state in international eyes.
An Israeli army spokesperson made the announcement on Sunday, giving Palestinian landowners 45 days’ to appeal what the IDF said was a “political” decision.
“On the instructions of the political echelon… 4,000 dunams at Gevaot (a small Jewish settlement) is declared as state land,” said the statement.
“The goal of the murderers of those three youths was to sow fear among us, to disrupt our daily lives and to call into doubt our right to the land… Our response is to strengthen settlement.”
The building work covering 400 hectares, or 988 acres, would “pave the way for the new city of Gevaot”, the army said.
But Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond urged Jerusalem to reverse the decision. In a strongly-worded statement, he said: “The UK deplores the Israeli government’s expropriation of 988 acres of land around the settlement of Etzion near Bethlehem. This is a particularly ill-judged decision that comes at a time when the priority must be to build on the ceasefire in Gaza. It will do serious damage to Israel’s standing in the international community.
“Our position on settlements is clear: they are illegal under international law, present an obstacle to peace and take us further away from a two state solution at a time when negotiations to achieve this objective urgently need to be resumed. ”
A foreign office spokesman said: “We have made our views clear to the Israeli Government today.”
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat called on the international community to “hold Israel accountable as soon as possible for its crimes”.
Meanwhile Palestine Liberation official Hanan Ashrawi said: Today’s announcement clearly represents Israel’s deliberate intent to wipe out any Palestinian presence on the land and to wilfully impose a de facto one-state solution.”
Human rights group Peace Now said the move was “unprecedented in its scope since the 1980s” and could “dramatically change the reality in the Gush Etzion and the Bethlehem areas.”
Activist Hagit Ofran added: “It stabs [Palestinian Authority president] Mahmoud Abbas and the moderate Palestinian forces in the back, proving again that violence delivers Israeli concessions while non-violence results in settlement expansion.”