State Dept. Spokesman John Kirby on Friday told a press conference in DC that the Administration is “deeply concerned about the [Israeli] Minister of Defense’s decision to expand the existing settlement boundary of the Gush Etzion Regional Council to include a former church compound, which effectively creates a new settlement on 10 acres in the West Bank.” Kirby noted that “some 70 percent of the West Bank’s Area C has already been unilaterally designated as Israeli state land, or within the boundaries of these regional settlement councils.”
The Oslo II Accord divided Judea and Samaria into three administrative divisions: the Areas A, B and C. The distinct areas were given a different status, according to the amount of self-government the local Arabs would have over it through the Palestinian Authority, until a final status accord would be established. Areas A and B were chosen in such a way as to contain only Arabs. Areas surrounding Areas A and B were defined as Area C. Fewer than 100,000 Arabs lived in Area C (PA sources inflate this number to 300,000 Arabs in Area C), in 532 residential locations. An estimated 420,000 Jews live in Area C in 235 Israeli towns, villages and outposts.
The compound in question includes 8 buildings at a strategic location on Route 60, connecting Hebron and Jerusalem, facing the al-Arroub refugee camp. The compound was built in the 1940s by an American missionary and served as a hospital for tuberculosis patients and later as a hostel for pilgrims, until the Presbyterian Church that owned it had run into financial difficulties and was forced to sell it.
The area in question is a church compound named Beit Beracha (Beit al Baraka), purchase by an American association supported by Jewish millionaire Irving Moskowitz, the benefactor of many Jewish settlement endeavors in eastern Jerusalem. According to Ha’aretz, the purchase was done through a pro-Israeli Norwegian Christian woman, who founded a front company in Sweden that presented itself as a religious entity looking to purchase the American church. The sale was made in 2010, then in 2012 the Swedish company was liquidated and the property was picked up by the Moskowitz association.
After an article in Ha’aretz exposed the operation, the Gush Etzion Regional Council officially requested to add the compound to its municipality, and a few weeks ago Defense Minister Ya’alon, whose office is the highest authority in Judea and Samaria, gave his approval and the local IDF commander signed the appropriate decree.
According to State Dept. Spokesman Kirby, “the new decision only expands this significant majority of the West Bank that has already been claimed for exclusive Israeli use. Along with the regular retroactive legalization of unauthorized outposts and construction of infrastructure in remote settlements, actions such as this decision clearly undermine the possibility of a two-state solution.”
Kirby reiterated that “our longstanding position on settlement activity is clear and has not changed. We view it as illegitimate and counterproductive to the cause of peace. Continued settlement activity and expansion raises honest questions about Israel’s long-term intentions and will only make achieving a two-state solution that much more difficult. As we’ve previously made clear, we continue to look at both sides to demonstrate with actions and policies a genuine commitment to a two-state solution, and actions such as yesterday’s decision, we believe, does just the opposite.”
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) said in a statement: “Adding the al Baraka compound to the Gush Etzion municipality was examined according to criteria set up by the professional echelon, approved by the political echelon, and executed according to the law.”
And that was that. Ten acres of land were added to the Jewish side, everybody was upset, life goes on.