Middle East

Israel approves largest West Bank land seizure in three decades, rights group says

By Lucas Lilieholm, Hande Atay Alam and Tamar Michaelis, CNN

CNN  —  Israel’s government has approved a large land seizure in the occupied West Bank – the biggest since the 1993 Oslo Accords set out a path for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, according to the Israeli rights group Peace Now.

The Israeli military’s Civil Administration department, which manages civilian matters in the West Bank, issued the declaration on June 25 converting the area into state land, according to a document from the body, but the official notice wasn’t posted until Wednesday, Peace Now said.

The declaration covers a 1,270 hectare (3,138 acre) section of the Jordan Valley in the eastern West Bank near Jericho, the document from the Civil Administration shows.

Peace Now, an Israeli rights group that monitors illegal Israeli settlement expansion, criticized the move in a statement on Wednesday, saying that the seizure makes it even more difficult to establish “a Palestinian state alongside Israel.”

The group also noted that the latest declaration followed several previous announcements that have made this year the biggest, by far, for Israeli land seizures in the Palestinian territory, according to data it has collected that dates back to 1993.

According to the report, declaring land as state property is one of Israel’s primary methods for asserting control over the occupied territories. Once land is designated as state land, Israel no longer recognizes it as privately owned by Palestinians. CNN has reached out to the spokesperson for Israel’s Civil Administration for comment about this specific claim by Peace Now, but has yet to hear back.

‘Thwarting’ Palestinian statehood

Separately, on Monday Israel’s Higher Planning Council, the government body responsible for greenlighting new housing construction in parts of the West Bank, said it would move to approve thousands of new housing units in dozens of Israeli settlements, according to Peace Now.

Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who also holds a position in the Defense Ministry with significant control over civilian matters in the occupied West Bank, celebrated the move in a Wednesday post on X.

“Building the good country and thwarting the establishment of a Palestinian state. MTA is meeting this morning to approve over 5,000 housing units,” he wrote, using an acronym for The Higher Planning Council.

Smotrich spoke about preventing the occupied West Bank from becoming a part of an independent Palestinian state, according to leaked audio of a speech he gave in June.

On Sunday, Israel sparked condemnation after the finance minister announced plans to legally recognize five unauthorized Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

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