Israel to Seize 380 More Acres of West Bank Land; Demolishes EU Structures

January 22nd, 2016 - by admin

Al Jazeera America & Reuters – 2016-01-22 00:26:56

Israel to Seize West Bank Land;
Demolishes EU Structures

Al Jazeera America & Reuters

(January 21, 2016) — Israel confirmed on Thursday it was planning to appropriate a large tract of fertile land in the occupied West Bank, close to Jordan, a move likely to exacerbate tensions with Western allies and already drawing international condemnation.

In an email sent to Reuters, COGAT, a unit of Israel’s Defense Ministry, said the political decision to seize the Palestinian territory had been taken and “the lands are in the final stages of being declared state lands.”

The appropriation covers 380 acres in the Jordan Valley close to Jericho, an area where Israel already has many settlement farms illegally built on Palestinian lands. It is Israel’s largest land seizure since August 2014.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon denounced the move and Palestinian officials said they would push for a resolution at the United Nations against Israel’s settlement policies.

“Settlement activities are a violation of international law and run counter to the public pronouncements of the government of Israel supporting a two-state solution to the conflict,” Ban said in a statement.

The land, in an area under Israeli military occupation and already used by Jewish settlers to farm dates, is situated near the northern tip of the Dead Sea. Palestinian officials denounced the seizure.

“Israel is stealing land specially in the Jordan Valley under the pretext it wants to annex it,” Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, told Reuters. “This should be a reason for a real and effective intervention by the international community to end such a flagrant and grave aggression which kills all chances of peace.”

The United States, whose ambassador angered Israel this week with criticism of its West Bank policy, said it was strongly opposed to any moves that accelerate settlement expansion.

“We believe they’re fundamentally incompatible with a two-state solution and call into question, frankly, the Israeli government’s commitment to a two-state solution,” Deputy State Department spokesman Mark Toner said on Wednesday.

In a development likely to further upset Europe, Israeli forces demolished six structures in the West Bank funded by the EU’s humanitarian arm. The structures were dwellings and latrines for Bedouins living in an area known as E1 — a particularly sensitive zone between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.

Israel has not built settlements in E1, with construction considered a “red line” by the United States and the EU. It could potentially split the West Bank, cutting Palestinians off from occupied East Jerusalem, which they seek for their capital.

“This is the third time they demolished my house and every time I rebuilt it, this time also I will rebuild it and I am not leaving here. If we leave they will turn the place into a closed military zone,” said Palestinian Saleem Jahaleen, whose home was razed.

Israeli officials did not respond to requests for comment on the demolitions. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week the EU was building illegally in the area. “They’re building without authorization, against the accepted rules, and there’s a clear attempt to create political realities,” he told the foreign media.

Netanyahu was scheduled to address the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday. He met US Secretary of State John Kerry there but it was not clear if the issue was raised.

The Palestinians want to establish an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, areas Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War.

There are now about 550,000 Jewish settlers living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem combined, according to Israeli government and think-tank statistics. About 350,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem and 2.7 million in West Bank.

All Israeli settlements are illegal under international law. Specifically, UN Security Council Resolution 446 states: “The policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”

Israel is hoping that in any final agreement with the Palestinians it will be able to keep large settlement blocs including in the Jordan Valley. The Palestinians are adamantly opposed.

The last round of peace talks broke down in April 2014 and Israeli-Palestinian violence has surged in recent months. Since the start of October, 148 Palestinians and 25 Israelis have been killed.

Businesses in Settlements Violate
Palestinian Rights, Says Rights Group

Ehab Zahriyeh / Al Jazeera America

(January 19, 2016) — Businesses that operate within or in coordination with Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories benefit from and contribute to an unlawful system that violates Palestinian rights, according to a scathing report released Tuesday by Human Rights Watch.

The report, titled “Occupation, Inc.: How Settlement Businesses Contribute to Israel’s Violations of Palestinian Rights,” calls for companies to stop “operating in, financing, servicing, or trading with Israeli settlements in order to comply with their human rights responsibilities.”

All Israeli settlements are illegal under international law. Specifically, UN Security Council Resolution 446 states: “The policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”

More than 500,000 Israelis live in more than 200 Jewish-only settlements and unofficial outpost — which are communities unrecognized or serviced by the Israeli government — in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

The HRW report specifically focuses on the role that settlement businesses play in supporting and benefiting from Israel’s 49-year-long military occupation of the West Bank.

In addition to numerous small businesses, 1,000 factories operate in 20 settlement industrial zones in the West Bank. The industrial zones and agricultural land administered by settlers make up almost double the amount of land seized by Israeli settlers for home construction, the report said.

Businesses operating in settlements benefit from low rent, tax incentives and cheap Palestinian labor. At least half of the settlement businesses pay Palestinian workers a wage lower than Israel’s hourly minimum wage, and offer no vacation, sick days or other benefits, according to Israeli labor rights group Kav LaOved.

Palestinians who choose to work in settlements often do so because of an inability to find regular work in the West Bank, where according to a 2013 World Bank assessment some $3.4 billion is lost per year as a result of restrictions on Palestinian movement and trade.

Emmanuel Nahshon, spokesperson for Israel’s foreign ministry, slammed the HRW report on Tuesday for being “one-sided” and ignoring the purported benefits that settlement businesses provide to Palestinians.

“At a time when Israel and the international community are taking practical steps to bolster the Palestinian economy and increase Palestinian employment, Israel is concerned with this one-sided, politicized report, which jeopardizes the livelihoods of thousands of Palestinians and discourages rare examples of coexistence, coordination and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians,” Nahshon said in a statement to Al Jazeera.

However, Sarah Saadoun, HRW’s Israel-Palestine researcher, described such justifications for the continued occupation and settlement enterprise as an “insult to injury.”

“If these employers truly cared about the financial wellbeing of Palestinians, they should be lobbying their own government to lift its discriminatory restrictions and end its settlement policies,” she said.

Meanwhile, on the same day the HRW report was released, Israel banned Palestinians from working in settlements in the West Bank indefinitely due to a recent spate of stabbing attacks targeting Israelis, an Israeli spokesperson told Palestinian news agency Ma’an. The “situation” would be “reviewed on a daily basis,” the spokesperson said according to Ma’an.

For its part, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on Tuesday echoed HRW’s call for businesses to cease operations in Israeli settlements.

“We call for the full application of international humanitarian law in the occupied State of Palestine, including international responsibility towards the full implementation of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people,” Saeb Erekat, PLO Secretary General, said in a statement.

The HRW report seems to have already impacted the decisions of some businesses to operate in the occupied territories.

“In the process of writing the report, one of the companies we researched relocated,” Saadoun said, though she would not reveal the identity of the company.

She added that Orange, the French telecom company also “ended its relationship with the Israeli company Partner after being criticized for supporting settlement infrastructure.”

Anti-settlement Momentum
International pressure has mounted in recent years against Israeli and international companies that due business in or with Israeli settlements.

Last week, the pension fund for the United Methodist Church blocked five Israeli banks from its investment portfolio for “prolonged and systematic pattern of human rights abuses,” referring to illegal settlements.

On Jan. 12, home-sharing website Airbnb made international headlines for listing dozens of rooms and apartments in West Bank settlements as being in “Israel” rather than Palestinian Territories. Airbnb, like real-estate giant Remax which also lists properties in settlements, is now a subject of a growing movement known as BDS which seeks to put pressure on Israel internationally through a non-violent campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions.

While the HRW report is calling for some of the same actions as the BDS movement — such as a withdrawal of businesses operating in settlements, “It does not have a position on the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement ― or boycott movements more generally,” Saadoun said.

“We are rather calling on businesses to comply with their own human rights responsibilities by ceasing settlement-related activities.”

Israel Confiscates Nearly 1,000 Acres
Of Palestinian land in the West Bank

Al Jazeera America

(August 31, 2014) – Israel on Sunday confiscated nearly 1,000 acres of privately owned Palestinian land near an Israeli settlement south of Bethlehem in the West Bank — a move described by Israeli rights group Peace Now as “unprecedented in its scope since the 1980s.”

Settlements built on Palestinian land occupied by Israel, including East Jerusalem, are deemed illegal by the United Nations. Israel’s refusal to halt their construction and expansion has at times arrested the peace process and increased resentment and distrust among Palestinians.

In a statement published on its website, Peace Now condemned the latest land confiscation and said it further damaged the chance of achieving a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians based on a two-state solution.

The group also said the move ran contrary to the “new diplomatic horizon” that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke of earlier this month, even as Israel and Hamas exchanged blows in a deadly battle that devastated the Gaza Strip.

“Peace Now views this declaration as proof that Prime Minister Netanyahu does not aspire for a new ‘Diplomatic Horizon’ but rather, he continues to put obstacles to the two state vision and promote a one state solution,” the group said.

Later on Sunday, a US State Department official characterized the land confiscation as “counterproductive” and urged Israel to “reverse” its decision.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond echoed that call on Monday, saying the move had the potential to reignite violence between the two parties.

“This is a particularly ill-judged decision that comes at a time when the priority must be to build on the cease-fire in Gaza. It will do serious damage to Israel’s standing in the international community,” Hammond said.

Sunday’s confiscation of Palestinian territory is the latest and largest in a series of land grabs near the Israeli settlement of Gvaot, said Peace Now. Some 243 acres in the area were declared state land last April.

Palestinian landowners in the villages of Surif, Husan, Al-Jabaa, and the city of Bethlehem were given 45 days to submit formal objections to the announced confiscation in Israeli courts, Palestinian news website Maan reported. If the landowners do not contest the order, the additional territories seized will also be declared Israeli state-owned land.

In the past, Palestinians have complained that their objections were largely ignored or denied by Israeli authorities that seek to create facts on the ground to bolster claims on Palestinian territories in a future peace settlement.

“The intention of appropriating the land is to create territorial continuity between the Green Line and settlements of Beitar Illit, Kfar Etzion, and Gvaot,” Haaretz reported. “The announcement is the latest in a series of plans designed to attach the Etzion settlement bloc to Jerusalem and its environs.”

The Green Line refers to the internationally recognized border between Israel and the West Bank, territory Israel captured and occupied in 1967. Critics of Israeli land confiscations say they reveal that the current Israeli government is not interested in returning territory to Palestinians in order to realize a two-state solution as the parties envisioned it in 1993.

In July, Netanyahu said in a press conference that he would never accept Palestinian sovereignty in the West Bank for security reasons.

“I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: There cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the river Jordan,” he said.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Abbas, said Sunday that the latest land grab would “lead to more instability” and “inflame the situation after the war in Gaza,” Haaretz reported.

Peace Now echoed the sentiment, saying, “By declaring another 4,000 dunams (990 acres) as state land, the Israeli government stabs President Abbas and the moderate Palestinian forces in the back, proving again that violent delivers Israeli concessions while nonviolence results in settlement expansion.”

Israel has announced nearly 1,500 new settlement homes since mid-June, Maan reported, which could house more than 6,000 new settlers in the West Bank. Israeli settlement activity increased dramatically in April during the last round of failed peace negotiations.

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