The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has sharply condemned the Israeli government’s decision Sunday to designate a lot in Gush Etzion as state land.
The decision came as a direct result of the kidnapping and murder by Hamas terrorists of three teenage yeshiva students on the site in early June.
The U.S. claimed the move would damage future final status talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
“We have long made clear our opposition to continued settlement activity,” a Statement Department spokesman said. “This announcement, like every other settlement announcement Israel makes, planning step they approve and construction tender they issue, is counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians. We urge the government of Israel to reverse this decision.”
In general, the U.S. has opposed Israeli development in Judea and Samaria, although most past administrations have ameliorated their concerns, depending on circumstance.
The 4,000-dunam lot is located adjacent to the Gush Etzion community of Alon Shevut, not far from bus stop and hitchhiking post where Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Frenkel and Gilad Sha’ar were abducted by Hamas terrorists and then murdered on June 12. Their bodies were found three weeks later in Judea after a massive manhunt by thousands of IDF soldiers and security personnel, in a field owned by the Hebron-based Qawasme clan along Highway 60 between Hebron and Gush Etzion in the PA town of Halhul.
Prior to the designation, the Judea and Samaria civil administration had designated the status of the area — known as Geva’ot — as ‘survey land’ as ordered by the political establishment after the bodies of the three teens were recovered. The move froze the status of the area and prevented construction plans from moving through the system until a determination could be made about its future, according to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).
Geva’ot is not new. In 1982, an Israeli cabinet decision laid the groundwork for development of the area as an IDF Nahal community, which started in 1984 and then closed two years later. For the next 10 years the site became the home of the Shevut Yisrael Yeshiva, with small pre-fab homes. In 1998, The Gush Etzion Regional Council reached out to the government, requesting construction of a full-scale city on the site similar to Ariel, Ma’ale Adumim, Modi’il Illite and Beitar Illit. Plans began but two years later were dropped due to international diplomatic pressure. In 2008, once again the plans were picked up and moved forward in 2009, especially after the Annapolis Summit came to naught. By 2012, initial authorization for 523 homes was secured from the Defense Ministry — and there the project was frozen.
Gush Etzion is well within the area Israel is likely to retain in any final status agreement with the Palestinian Authority.
The PA immediately responded that the site belongs to districts of two separate PA-controlled cities: Bethlehem and Hebron. Bethlehem is located across the road and is more than five and a half miles north. Hebron is the same distance, to the south.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, declared Sunday evening, “The settlement enterprise is illegal,” in a sweeping condemnation of every Jewish city, town and village built in Judea and Samaria, including any that might be built on the newly-designated state land. Nearly 400,000 Jews now live in Judea and Samaria.
He, too, said the move would “bring about a further deterioration” in talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority – which at this point includes Hamas in its unity government.
The PA has had to be repeatedly dragged to the negotiations table over the years, each time with ‘enticements’ and ‘good will gestures’ forced on Israel by the United States.