Israel has been widely criticised after announcing that it would seize nearly 1,000 acres of Palestinian land near Bethlehem in the West Bank.
On Sunday, Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank announced the appropriation of 988 acres (400 hectares) belonging to five Palestinian villages between the Gush Etzion settlement bloc and Jerusalem, clearing the way for the construction of a new settlement called Gvaot.
The announcement follows the cabinet’s decision last week to seize the land to punish the Palestinian people for the June kidnapping and murder of three teenage Jewish boys by Hamas-linked militants in the area, which was the catalyst for the recent Gaza conflict.
The land grab was not agreed upon during the recent negotiations for a lasting ceasefire in Gaza.
The action has been widely condemned as a form of collective punishment, which is explicitly forbidden in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni condemned the move in an interview with Israel Radio and warned that it would reflect badly on Israel around the world, saying:
“This is a decision that is wrong, inherently….It is a decision that weakens the state of Israel and harms its security…any such announcement, at this time, or ever, will immediately draw the world’s attention to the Etzion Bloc, and will immediately turn a place like the Etzion Bloc, which is considered within the consensus both in Israel and abroad, into a controversial area.”
The US has described the move as “counterproductive” and a State Department spokesperson has said that they urged Israel to “reverse this decision”.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron also criticised the decision, saying:
“The appropriation of nearly 1,000 acres of land in the West Bank near Bethlehem is utterly deplorable.
“Settlements are illegal under international law and will do nothing to create the kind of peace process we all want, and we urge the Israeli government to reverse this decision.”
Israel has been considering the construction of Gvaot since 2000 as part of its continued expropriation of land on the occupied West Bank, which is regarded as illegal under international law and the major obstacle to finding a lasting peace settlement