UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned Israel's decision to include an area of land beyond the Green Line under Israeli control, in a statement released on Monday.
"The Secretary-General is alarmed by yesterday’s announcement by Israeli authorities to declare as so-called 'state land' nearly 1,000 acres of land in the Bethlehem area of the West Bank," the UN chief's office said in a statement.
"The seizure of such a large swathe of land risks paving the way for further settlement activity, which – as the United Nations has reiterated on many occasions – is illegal under international law and runs totally counter to the pursuit of a two-state solution."
"The Secretary-General calls on Israel to heed the calls of the international community to refrain from settlement activity and abide by its commitments under international law and the Quartet road map."
The area to which Ban was referring is known as Gva’ot, just outside of Alon Shvut, in an area of Gush Etzion that Israel believes will be included within its final borders in any final-status solution. The decision signaled the end of the civil administration’s investigation into the possibility that parcels of it were private Palestinian property.
There is a 45-day period for objections to be raised. The land had previously been listed as survey land, a designation that prevented settlers and the army from moving building plans through the planning system.
Gush Etzion Regional Council head Davidi Perl welcomed the announcement that the near- 1,000 acres, which help create territorial contiguity between his communities and the pre-1967 lines, had been declared state land.
“This paves the way for the establishment of a new city in Gush Etzion,” Perl said.
The other four Israeli cities past the Green Line are Modi’in Illit, Betar Illit, Ma’aleh Adumim and Ariel.
The area of Gva’ot was first developed as an IDF Nahal community in 1984, following a 1982 cabinet decision. The military closed it in 1996. For the next decade, the Shvut Yisrael Yeshiva made use of the site with small modular homes.
Since 1998 the Gush Etzion Regional Council has consistently pushed to build a city in that area. Initial plans for 6,000 homes in Gva’ot were abandoned in 2000 because the diplomatic climate was not supportive.
The plans were picked up again in 2008 and moved forward in 2009 after the Annapolis peace process fell apart.
In 2012, the Defense Ministry gave initial authorization to build 523 homes there but then froze the project.
In June of this year, the Gush Etzion Regional Council re-issued its call for work to move forward on Gva’ot as a response to the deaths of Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah.
The three teens were kidnapped at a bus stop near the Gva’ot site.
“Those who killed the three teens wanted to instill fear, disrupt our lives, undermine our right to all of this land and to Gush Etzion in particular,” Perl said.
“Our response is to strengthen the settlement enterprise, strengthen our sovereignty over Gush Etzion and Judea and Samaria and to build within and without the settlement blocs,” Perl said.
“I trust that the government will continue to advance the construction of a new city that will provide thousands of new homes. In this way it will prove to our enemies who wanted to uproot us that they have only deepened our hold on the land,” he said.
The Palestinian Authority immediately condemned what it called the seizure of its land in the West Bank and claimed that it belonged to the districts of the two Palestinian cities located nearest to the parcel – Bethlehem and Hebron.
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said that this status change must be reversed.
“This decision will lead to more instability. This will only inflame the situation after the war in Gaza,” Abu Rudaineh said.
Tovah Lazaroff, Herb Keinon and Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.