ISTANBUL -- Israel has come under a barrage of criticism since announcing on Sunday its plans to seize 1,000 acres of Palestinian-claimed land -- roughly the size of New York City's Central Park -- in the occupied West Bank.
Israel declared part of the territory near Bethlehem as “state land,” clearing the way for Israeli settlements to expand. Israel has discussed for years the possibility of expanding settlements there, part of a larger area designated as a “settlement bloc.”
Roughly half a million Israelis live in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, home to 2.4 million Palestinians who say their territory is rapidly shrinking. The U.N. and many countries say Israel’s settlements violate international law, though Israel disputes this.
Israeli officials say the land appropriation is in response to the brutal murder of three Israeli teenagers in June, which set off tumult and the suspected revenge killing of a Palestinian 16-year-old who was found burned alive. Israel has been destroying homes of Palestinians in the West Bank suspected of being involved in the scandal.
Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu early Wednesday morning to protest Israel’s land grab.
On Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called on Israel to reverse its decision:
The steps are contrary to Israel’s stated goal of negotiating a permanent-status agreement with the Palestinians, and it would send a very troubling message if they proceed.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon decried Israel’s decision on Monday, calling on the country to abide by international law:
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 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.
On Tuesday, the European Union urged Israel to reverse its decision:
We condemn the new expropriation of land in the West Bank, relating to plans for further settlement expansion, announced by the Israeli government on Sunday. 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.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende warned the land grab is in violation of international law:
The expropriation of land makes the work to find a lasting two-state solution for Israel and Palestine more difficult, and I strongly urge the Israeli authorities to reverse this decision.
On Monday, France issued a statement urging Israel to rethink its land annexation:
France condemns the Israeli authorities’ decision to confiscate 400 hectares of land in Bethlehem Governorate (West Bank) for the benefit of the neighbouring settlement of Gvaot. And it calls on those authorities to go back on their decision. As the French President recalled at the Ambassadors’ Conference, the parties must mobilize as a matter of urgency to return to the path of peace as soon as possible.
Japan issued a strongly worded statement on Tuesday:
The Government of Japan strongly deplores that the Government of Israel has announced to expropriate nearly 4 square kilometers of land in the southern part of the West Bank.
This announcement by Israeli Government clearly contradicts the ongoing efforts by the international community toward ceasefire agreement over Gaza as well as realizing a two-state solution.
Settlement activities are violation of international law, and Japan has repeatedly called upon Israel to completely freeze settlement activities. The Government of Japan strongly calls upon Israel to refrain from any unilateral act that changes the current status of East Jerusalem as well as the West Bank and to refrain from implementing the above-mentioned announcement for the sake of progress in the peace process.
Japan once again strongly urges both sides to act to enhance mutual trust as well as to continue to make steady efforts for peace.
Turkey's foreign ministry also expressed outrage over the decision:
We denounce Israel's seizure of land, which is aimed at building illegal settlements in villages in the West Bank, and Israel's decision to dispossess the largest scale of land in the West Bank for the last 30 years, which displays this country's practices that violate international law on occupied Palestinian lands.
Britain’s Foreign secretary Philip Hammond called Israel’s settlements "illegal" on Monday and urged the Israeli government to reverse the decision:
The UK deplores the Israeli government’s expropriation of 988 acres of land around the settlement of Etzion near Bethlehem. This is a particularly ill-judged decision that comes at a time when the priority must be to build on the ceasefire in Gaza. It will do serious damage to Israel’s standing in the international community.
Our position on settlements is clear: they are illegal under international law, present an obstacle to peace, and take us further away from a two-state solution at a time when negotiations to achieve this objective urgently need to be resumed.
All efforts should currently be focused on securing a durable ceasefire in Gaza and the lasting peace that the Palestinian and Israeli people deserve. We strongly urge the government of Israel to reverse this decision.
The land grab comes mere days after Israel and Hamas reached a shaky ceasefire agreement to end nearly two months of bloodshed in the Gaza Strip.
"What we did yesterday was a display of Zionism,” Israel’s economics minister Naftali Bennet said on Monday in response to Israel's decision. “Building is our answer to murder."
After what has been a volatile summer, Palestinian officials warn Israel's controversial move will only escalate tensions.