Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon took steps Sunday to strengthen Israel’s land holdings in the West Bank, including in Hebron, as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Jerusalem to rescue the deadlocked peace process.
Ya’alon gave the green light for settlers to move into a large four-story structure in Hebron known to its supporters as Beit Hashalom (House of Peace), and to its opponents as Beit Hameriva (House of Contention).
The move expands Jewish property holdings in the section of the city under Israeli military and civil control. It is located in a Palestinian neighborhood just outside the Kiryat Arba settlement, on the major road that leads to the Cave of the Patriarchs. The structure has a commanding presence on the road and provides its inhabitants with a clear view of the entire area.
Amid song and fanfare soon after the defense minister’s decision, three settler families moved into the structure, which lacks running water and electricity. They carried refrigerators and cabinets into the building, which is surrounded by barbed wire and concrete barriers. Rabbi Dov Lior, a fiery proponent of settlement, affixed a mezuza on main door.
Kiryat Arba Council head Malahi Levinger said: “We hope the entry of these families will be key to future purchases and construction in Kiryat Arba, Hebron and all of the land.”
Levinger called the High Court’s decision to support the settlers’ purchase claim “brave, worthy and just.” He added: “The High Court’s decision and the entry of the families is a victory against those who are working against Jewish settlement.”
Morris Abraham, a Jewish man from Brooklyn, purchased the building from its Palestinian owners over a decade ago. In March 2007, claiming ownership, settlers moved in even though the Defense Ministry had not authorized the purchase or given them permits to live there. They were forcibly evacuated in December 2008.
The Palestinian owners argued that the sale had been fraudulent and turned to the courts. In March, the High Court of Justice ruled that the purchase had been legal, but only on Sunday did Ya’alon grant Jewish families from Hebron permission to move in.
The IDF has also reclassified as state land 100 hectares in the Gush Etzion region of the West Bank, a move that will allow for the future expansion of three settlements: Neveh Daniel, Alon Shvut and Elazar.
It paves the way for future authorization of the Netiv Ha’avot outpost located on the outskirts Elazar.
The move by the IDF regarding the state land was made on Thursday but publicized only on Sunday. Until now it had been registered as survey land, meaning its status was unclear and construction could not be authorized.
Palestinians contend that the land in question belongs to private property owners.
Hagit Ofran of Peace Now said the landowners planned to petition the High Court of Justice.
Most Israelis believe that Gush Etzion will become part of Israel in any final status agreement with the Palestinians.
Even the Palestinians have indicated that it could be part of a land-swap in a peace deal.
The status of Hebron as part of a peace deal is much more tenuous. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has spoken of the city’s historic and biblical significance for the Jewish people. Palestinians, in turn, claim it for their state. And its location, more than 15 kilometers beyond the pre-1967 lines, presents a geographical challenge for its inclusion in Israel’s final borders.
Palestinians reacted angrily to the move.
Ya’alon’s decision to allow settlers to move into the structure in the city reflected Netanyahu’s “will to strengthen settlements and bury the twostate solution,” said Fatah Central Committee member Muhammad Shtayyeh.
“This shows the Israeli government’s commitment to colonization rather than peace,” Shtayyeh continued.
“This is a government that will do everything possible in order to turn its occupation into annexation of our land. By taking this decision the Israeli government is not only grabbing more Palestinian land, but is endangering the lives of Palestinians in Hebron who constantly suffer from the action of settler terrorists operating under the protection of Israeli occupation forces,” Shtayyeh said.
“While some people are talking about the continuation of talks, this clearly shows Israel’s lack of commitment toward a two-state solution,” Shtayyeh continued.
“It undermines US and international efforts and reaffirms that there is no sense in extending negotiations without a full cessation of Israeli settlement activities all over the occupied state of Palestine, including in and around occupied east Jerusalem.”
The Prime Minister’s Office had no comment on the measures, which came as Israel took retaliatory steps against the Palestinians for unilaterally shoring up their legal standing as a state by applying to 15 international treaties and conventions.
Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Eli Ben-Dahan said that the period leading up to Passover, the festival of freedom, was the perfect time to allow Jewish people to be free to buy land in the Land of Israel.
“Thank God, after five years of legal battles justice came to light,” Ben-Dahan stated.
MKs Yariv Levin (Likud Beytenu) and Orit Struck (Bayit Yehudi), who chair the Knesset’s Land of Israel Caucus, commended Ya’alon, calling the move “a victory of justice over the Palestinian Authority’s anti-Semitic law prohibiting the sale of land to Jews” and a decision that “breaks ground for the continued purchase of homes and land throughout the Land of Israel.”
Left-wing politicians attacked the move. Labor MK Merav Michaeli wrote a letter calling for Netanyahu to cancel Ya’alon’s authorization.
“The establishment of a new settlement in the heart of Hebron... will require an increased presence of soldiers, will hurt the Palestinians living near the building, will bring an escalation of a situation that is currently under relative control, and endanger the possibility of renewing the diplomatic process,” Michaeli wrote.
She added that the structure should be evacuated before it turns into “another Yitzhar,” where residents recently attacked IDF soldiers guarding the settlement.
MK Ilan Gilon, who chairs the Meretz Knesset faction, said Ya’alon may become responsible for “bloodshed.”
He criticized the defense minister’s decision, calling it “more spit in the public’s face from the extreme right-wing government, which decides during a crisis in talks with the Palestinians to strengthen settlers in Hebron.”