Skip to main content

US considers action against Israel after announcement of West Bank land grab

Officials tell Israeli media Obama has sent 'sharply worded' letters to Netanyahu and may take further action against Israeli authorities
Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu said to have been unaware of the land grab announcement (AFP)

The US administration may take further action against Israel for their land grab of 1,000 acres in the West Bank, adding to condemnation of the move they described as “deeply concerning”.

“Maybe our reaction will find expression in other ways,” an unnamed American official told Haaretz, without providing further details of the action.

Israel announced on Sunday that it will expropriate 400 hectares (998 acres) of Palestinian land in the Bethlehem area of the occupied West Bank.

“On the instructions of the political echelon…4,000 dunams at Gevaot [settlement] is declared as state land,” said the army department charged with administering civil affairs in occupied territory, laying down a 45-day period for any appeal.

It said the move stemmed from political decisions taken after the June killing of three Israeli settlers snatched from a roadside in the same area, known to Israelis as the Gush Etzion settlement bloc. The land grab “was designed to create contiguity” between the Green Line, demarking the 1949 armistice agreement, and the settlements in Betar Ilit, Kfar Etzion and Gevaot.

A senior Israeli official told Haaretz the land grab announcement had “drove the Americans nuts” and revealed President Obama has sent “extremely sharply worded messages” to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The US State Department has publicly called on Israel to “reverse the decision”, which is said ran “contrary to Israel’s state goal of a two-state solution”. The Haaretz diplomatic sources, however, said this statement had not “fully convey[ed] the administration’s anger.”

Advisors to Netanyahu are said to have made attempts “to calm the Americans down” by reassuring them that it would “take years” for any construction to take place on the land and that the announcement still “required a number of stages of approval.” The advisors added that Netanyahu was surprised by the announcement, which he had not been informed of in advance.

The Israeli Civil Administration is said to have “surveyed the area” in question and concluded the land was not privately owned by Palestinians and therefore free to be announced as part of Israel.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat responded to the announcement by calling for diplomatic action against Israel.

“The Israeli government is committing various crimes against the Palestinian people and their occupied land,” he told AFP.

“The international community should hold Israel accountable as soon as possible for its crimes and raids against our people in Gaza and the ongoing Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”

Israel has come under increasing pressure for its settlement expansion plans. It emerged earlier this week that Netanyahu had cancelled construction on 2,500 settlement units in Jerusalem due to international pressure.

Israeli officials told Walla! the prime minister had stopped the construction of new settlement homes due to fear of an “international crisis”, after the US had urged him not follow through with the plan.

The housing units had been announced after the 12 June abduction of three Israeli settler teens, who were later found dead near Hebron. 1,500 units were to be built in south Jerusalem and a further 1,000 in West Bank settlements.

“The national status after Operation Protective Edge is explosive and complicated,” an unnamed official told Walla!. “Israel needs to act carefully and initiate new crises that will be added to unavoidable crises created by the operation.”

Israel’s military offensive in Gaza, labelled Operation Protective Edge by their army, came to an end on 26 August after seven weeks of bloody fighting in the Palestinian coastal enclave. More than 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed in the assault, while some 73 Israelis, almost all soldiers, died in the fighting.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.