a statement, Peace Now, the leading group on the Israeli left that opposes settlement expansion and supports a two-state solution, called the move "unprecedented in its scope since the 1980's." Hagit Ofran, director of Peace Now's Settlement Watch project, said, “Netanyahu is weakening the moderate voices of the Palestinians and strengthening Hamas and those who say they don’t talk to the Israelis because they do not want peace”:
The Civil Administration, the Israeli military authority responsible for implementing government policy in the West Bank, said the decision was based on the “instructions of the political leadership” after Operation Brother’s Keeper, the security sweep in June that followed the killing of three Israeli teens abducted in the area.
In recent weeks, leaders of the Islamist militant movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and is branded a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States, have indicated that their operatives were behind the kidnapping.
On Sunday, Israel formally began the process of converting the 1,000 acres into “state land.” The area lies west of Bethlehem in a section of the West Bank that Israelis call Gush Etzion, a cluster of nine Israeli settlements.
According to Peace Now, 10 Jewish families live at the site and operate a religious school.
A leader of the council that administers the Gush Etzion settlement bloc told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the appropriation paves the way for the establishment of a city to be called Gvaot.
Those who oppose the appropriation plan have 45 days to express their objections. According to the news agency Reuters, the mayor of a nearby town said Palestinians owned the tracts and harvested olives there.
Image: Peace Now