Israel has announced that it will open seven new nature reserves in the occupied West Bank, the first time it has made such a move in 25 years. The controversial decision sparked a backlash from Israeli rights groups and the Palestinian leadership, which has vowed to file complaints in the United Nations and international courts.
Israeli Defense Minister Natalie Bennett, while confirming the new sites, said the move was ‘a big boost to Israel’s land’. He said 12 existing reserves would also be expanded, including Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in caves 60 years ago.
Mr Bennett, who heads the pro-settlement New Rights Party, said the reserves would be located in Area C, which makes up 61 per cent of the West Bank and is under total Israeli control.
These lands will include the Jordan Valley, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he planned to contract in September.
Israeli settlements in the West Bank are considered illegal under international law and detrimental to the widely accepted two-state resolution of the decades-long Israeli-Palestine conflict.
According to Israeli rights group Peace Now, which monitors settlement expansion, more than one-third of the new reserves’ proposed location is on private Palestinian land, making it illegal even under Israeli law.
Mr. Bennett was quoted as saying: “Today we provide a significant boost to the land of Israel and with the actions, Jewish communities in Region C will continue to develop, not with words.
“I invite all the citizens of Israel to tour and walk the land, to come to the [West Bank], watch the vision, the search and the Jewish enterprise continue.”
Mr Bennett said it would be the first time such a decision was taken since the Oslo Accords were signed in the nineties.
He is trying to rally support as he seeks re-election for Knesset in the upcoming March 2 poll.
The Palestinian Authority condemned this latest move, accusing Mr. Bennett of erecting a new colonial umbrella to fight the Palestinian presence in those areas.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said it would file a complaint in the United Nations and international courts over a ‘dangerous declaration’.
The ministry said, “The Foreign Ministry has strongly condemned Bennett’s colonial and expansionist decisions and confirmed that the so-called nature reserves are just one more plan for the appropriation and seizure of Palestinian lands. Palestinian news agency WAFA by.
“This, in the end, goes to the advantage of shrinking settlements in the occupied West Bank.”
Shanti now said the move is part of restricting Palestinian people’s access to land and normalizing the merger of parts of the West Bank.
The group said that Israel has 96 nature reserves and 14 national parks in the West Bank, despite it violating international law.
Brian Reeves, a Peace Now spokesman, said 31 Israeli settlements or outposts were wholly or partially built within these reserves.
“These reserves do a great job of keeping the Palestinians off the land. Mr. Reeves told the Independent, nature reserves and national parks have also been used to stop Palestinian construction.
“Under international law, the designation is illegal in any Israeli building or West Bank. But 37 per cent of these lands are on private Palestinian land adding a second layer of illegality under Israel’s laws.
“They are slowly trying to take over Region C as if it had not occupied the area. One could imagine 71 per cent of the western coast of the two states’ solution being part of Israel.
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