In an email sent to Reuters, COGAT, a unit of Israel's Defense
Ministry, said the political decision to seize the territory had
already been taken and "the lands are in the final stages of being
declared state lands".
The appropriation, first reported by Israel's Army Radio, covers 154
hectares (380 acres) in the Jordan Valley close to Jericho, an area
where Israel already has many settlement farms built on land
Palestinians seek for a state.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday denounced the
seizure, which is the largest appropriation in the West Bank since
"Settlement activities are a violation of international law and run
counter to the public pronouncements of the government of Israel
supporting a two-state solution to the conflict," Ban said in a
The land, already partly farmed by Jewish settlers in an area fully
under Israeli civilian and military control, is situated near the
northern tip of the Dead Sea. No Palestinians currently live there.
Palestinian officials denounced the seizure on Wednesday, with Hanan
Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization,
calling it a violation of international law.
"Israel is stealing land specially in the Jordan Valley under the
pretext it wants to annex it," she told Reuters. "This should be a
reason for a real and effective intervention by the international
community to end such a flagrant and grave aggression which kills
all chances of peace."
The United States, whose ambassador angered Israel this week with
criticism of its West Bank policy, said on Wednesday it was strongly
opposed to any move that accelerates settlement expansion.
"We believe they're fundamentally incompatible with a two-state
solution and call into question, frankly, the Israeli government's
commitment to a two-state solution," Deputy State Department
spokesman Mark Toner said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu was scheduled to address the World Economic Forum in Davos
on Thursday. It was not immediately clear if he would speak on the
issue or if foreign diplomats would raise their concerns with him.
[to top of second column]
The Palestinians want to establish an independent state in the West
Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, areas Israel captured in the 1967
Middle East War.
There are now about 550,000 Jewish settlers living in the West Bank
and East Jerusalem combined, according to Israeli government and
think-tank statistics. About 350,000 Palestinians live in East
Jerusalem and 2.7 million in West Bank.
Israel is hoping that in any final agreement with the Palestinians
it will be able to keep large settlement blocs close to Jerusalem
and the Israeli border, as well as in the Jordan Valley, for
security and agricultural purposes. The Palestinians are adamantly
The last round of peace talks broke down in April 2014 and
Israeli-Palestinian violence has surged in recent months.
Since the start of October, Palestinian stabbings, car-rammings and
shootings have killed 25 Israelis and a U.S. citizen. In the same
period, at least 148 Palestinians have been killed, 94 of whom
Israel has described as assailants. Most of the others died during
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell, editing by Luke Baker and Angus
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