The United States is concerned that Israel expanded its holding of state land in the West Bank by close to 1,000 acres for a new settlement city and that plans are pending for additional building activity in east Jerusalem.
US Ambassador Dan Shapiro “relayed our concerns over the weekend,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington on Tuesday, as she called on Israel to reverse Sunday’s decision regarding the land located in the Gush Etzion bloc, in an area known as Gva’ot.
US Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to raise the issue with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The two were scheduled to speak on Tuesday.
Palestinians claim that the land belongs to five of its villages and accused Israel of expropriating it. But the IDF’s Coordinator of Government Activity in the Territories’ (COGAT) office said on Sunday that an investigation completed this summer proved that the property in question was state land.
However, Psaki said, “We are deeply concerned about the declaration of a large area as ‘state land’ to be used for expanded settlement building.”
“We have long made clear our opposition to continued settlement activity. We call on the government of Israel to reverse this decision,” she said.
Psaki said the State Department is concerned too by reports that announcements of settlement activity in east Jerusalem are pending.
The continued planning and construction, she said, is “contrary to Israel’s stated goal of negotiating a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians.”
The EU issued a harsher statement on Tuesday against the “new appropriation of land in the West Bank, relating to plans for further settlement expansion.”
“Settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to render the twostate solution impossible,” the statement said. “The EU reiterates that it will not recognize any changes to the pre- 1967 borders, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties.”
It continued, that “at this delicate moment, any action that might undermine stability and the prospect of constructive negotiations following the cease-fire in Gaza should be avoided.
We call on the Israeli authorities to reverse this decision and to engage in good faith toward a lasting peace based on a two-state solution.”
Britain had similarly condemned the action on Monday and warned that it further isolated Israel within the international community.
Israel believes that the land will be included within its permanent borders in any final two-state solution.
An official said that the COGAT declaration was a technical and legal matter.
There is a 45-day window for objections to be raised, which would allow for Palestinians to make a property claim.
There are, however, still many technical and bureaucratic steps that would take years to complete before building is authorized, according to the official.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid slammed Netanyahu for his decision to appropriate 400 hectares of West Bank land, saying the decision damages Israel.
“We need more measured policy conduct, and not to generate unnecessary disputes with the United States and the world,” he said at the Calcalist economic conference in Tel Aviv.
The decision to nationalize the land raised the question, “What is this good for, of all times now? “This was a grab that was not brought before the cabinet and at this time simply causes damage to the State of Israel,” he said.
At this sensitive political time following Operation Protective Edge when alliances are already strained, “part of responsible behavior is the question of when and how to do things,” Lapid said, in a jibe aimed at the prime minister.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) responded that Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who attacked the plan on Monday, should leave the government if they disagree with its settlement policies.
“They can’t have their cake and eat it too,” Herzog said. “Their criticism should become actions. Lapid and Livni must choose between the path of Netanyahu and the path that will take Israel out of crisis.”
Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) called the annexation a symbolic step in the right direction.
“This needs to lead to complete annexation of all Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria,” she said. “It is now clear to most of the public that when Israel concedes territory, terrorism only intensifies.”
Meanwhile Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, backed the Gva’ot decision, saying at a press conference that the government’s policy was to focus on building in the large settlement blocs that “it is clear” will remain under Israeli sovereignty “in any agreement.”
“Gush Etzion represents the widest consensus in Israeli society, and it is clear to all that in any agreement it will remain a part of Israel,” he said.
Liberman said it was necessary to remember the decision was taken in the wake of the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in Gush Etzion in June.
Niv Elis contributed to this report.