Israel has issued orders to seize Palestinian-owned land to link a main Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank to Jerusalem, officials say, a step that could isolate Palestinians from Jerusalem. An Israeli government spokesman on Wednesday said orders were issued to seize four Palestinian-owned tracts of land around Maale Adumim, the largest Jewish settlement in the West Bank, last Thursday, Reuters reported.
The planned Maale Adumim section of the barrier Israel is building in the West Bank has raised alarm in Washington because of Israel’s stated intention to build homes in Maale Adumim joining it to Jerusalem, 8km away. By looping in the enclave, Israel would effectively seal Palestinians off from east Jerusalem, which they want as their capital. Israel considers all of the holy city its own capital, a claim not recognised internationally.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) has urged the international community to move swiftly to save the “peace process” which it said was facing a “mortal danger” as a result of Israel’s large-scale seizure of Palestinian land in the West Bank. The Palestinians say the Israeli move would cut off the northern parts of the West Bank from the southern parts and kill any possibility of creating a viable Palestinian state.
“It is crystal clear that Israel is trying to impose her will in the West Bank, and this could only have one result, the resumption of violence and bloodshed,” said Ghassan Khatib, the Palestinian planning and international cooperation minister told Aljazeera.net.
“The building of this gigantic structure would turn our towns and villages into dead-end areas and that will allow Israel to continue settlement expansion on the other side of the wall.”
Khatib said Israeli plans to impose a “fait accompli” would vindicate the views of “many elements” on the Palestinian side who are convinced that “violence is the only way to recover our rights”.
“If Israel continues to seize and arrogate our land and ignore the rule of international law and legitimacy, then, yes, the ultimate outcome would be the resumption of violence and bloodshed.”
Khatib criticised what he called the international community’s “exaggerated infatuation” with the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, which he said was being interpreted by Israel as a green light for settlement expansion in the West Bank.
Moreover, Khatib lauded “an increase in American diplomatic attention to the Palestinian issue”, especially at the economic level. However, he noted that the US stand on the settlement issue was “reluctant and indecisive”. Last year, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled the wall was “an illegal structure” and demanded Israel bring it down.
The advisory ruling also judged that all Israeli settlements built within the 1967 borders, including East Jerusalem, were illegal and in violation of international law.
The Palestinian Authority considers the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza Strip, expected to be completed in 3-4 weeks, as the first step towards the creation of a Palestinian state in the Palestinian territories Israel occupied in 1967.
However, Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, say they will maintain Israeli control over large parts of the West Bank, especially dozens of Jewish settlements built in the heart of Palestinian territory such as Maale Adumim, Ariel, Gush Etzion and Efrata.
Israel, unlike most of the international community, views the West Bank as a “disputed” rather than “occupied” territory. The Palestinians argue that the world community, especially the Quartet (US, EU, Russia and UN) must exert pressure on Israel to carry out the “roadmap” peace plan if there is to be peace in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, Israel continues to defend the “separation wall” as a “security” rather than “political” fence. “The official position of the state of Israel is that this fence is a security measure aimed at protecting Israelis from Palestinian suicide bombers,” said Mark Regev, a senior spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
In an interview with Aljazeera.net, he said the wall had been very effective in preventing Palestinian attacks. “I can safely claim that the wall creates a positive atmosphere for peace. Imagine how the overall situation would have been if there had been a suicide bombing in Israel every week.”
Regev dismissed Palestinian fears that Israel was killing the two-state solution by destroying the territorial integrity and Palestinian demographic contiguity in the West Bank by reducing Palestinian towns into isolated enclaves. “New highways and tunnels can be built to link Palestinian areas with each other.”
According to the PA minister for Jerusalem, Hind Khouri, Israel would in total confiscate around 1600 dunams (1,600,000 square metres) in al-Azzariya, Abu Dis and Sawahra al Sharkiya.
The wave of confiscation would leave huge swathes of grazing lands, olive groves and about 250 wells that serve the Palestinian population on the Israeli side of the wall. Some Palestinian leaders in East Jerusalem, underscoring their frustration, are planning to appeal to Israeli courts to stop the confiscation of their land. However, Israeli courts have rejected such appeals.
Khalid Amayreh is a journalist based in the occupied West Bank. This article was originally published by aljazeera.net and reprinted on EI permission.