Israel announces largest West Bank land seizure since 1993 during Blinken visit

Israel’s far-right finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, announced the seizure of 10 square kilometers (3.8 square miles) of Palestinian territory in the West Bank on Friday. The move marks the single largest land seizure by the Israeli government since the 1993 Oslo accords, according to Peace Now, a settlement watchdog group.

“While there are those in Israel and the world who seek to undermine our right over the Judea and Samaria area and the country in general,” Smotrich said Friday, referring to the territory by its biblical name, “we are promoting settlement through hard work and in a strategic manner all over the country.”

Israeli settlements in the West Bank are considered illegal under international law. Still, Israel has used land orders like the one issued Friday to gain control over 16 percent of Palestinian-controlled lands in the West Bank. The newly seized area includes parcels in the Jordan Valley and between the settlements of Maale Adumim and Keidar.

The announcement came as Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in Tel Aviv for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the future of the war in Gaza. Blinken’s arrival followed meetings in Cairo with several Arab leaders, and amid calls from Democratic senators for President Biden to establish a “bold, public framework” for a two-state solution that recognizes a “nonmilitarized Palestinian state.”

Friday’s land order is particularly problematic for the prospect of a two-state solution, experts say.“If Israel confiscates land around Jerusalem, all the way to the Dead Sea, there will be no future for a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem,” said Hamza Zubiedat, a land rights activist for the Ramallah-based Ma’an Development Center. “This is where a Palestinian capital was supposed to be located, according to the American and European talks.”

The land transfer will also cut across the West Bank, dividing the north and south.“If the Israelis annex this area near Maale Adumim, it will be a catastrophe for Palestinians who live in the south,” Zubiedat said. “Palestinian traders, especially in the south, will be cut off, and it will become impossible to have any independent Palestinian ways of life.”

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