TEL AVIV – The U.S. on Tuesday accused Israel of “expropriating land” in the Jordan Valley after Israel reclassified 2,342 dunams (578 acres) near the Palestinian city of Jericho as state land, the Jerusalem Post reported.
“This decision is, in our view, the latest step in what appears to be an ongoing process of land expropriations, settlement expansions, and legalizations of outposts that is fundamentally undermining the prospects for a two-state solution,” U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters in Washington.
“We strongly oppose any steps that accelerate settlement expansion, which raise serious questions about Israel’s long-term intentions. And as we’ve repeatedly made clear, we continue to look to both sides to demonstrate with actions and policies a genuine commitment to a two-state solution. Actions such as these do just the opposite,” Kirby said.
Israel’s reclassification of the area, which is mostly empty desert, does not change its current usage, but does pave the way for Israel to develop it, the Jerusalem Post said.
“In accordance with the decision of the political level and the examining of the professional authorities, 2,342 dunams [578 acres] have been declared as state lands,” a spokesman for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said on Tuesday.
The Palestinians have argued that settlement activity is a barrier to the so-called peace process. Israel counters that the Palestinian refusal to hold direct negotiations is halting the advancement of the two-state solution. The Palestinian Authority has numerous times walked away from negotiations, including Israeli offers of a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and eastern sections of Jerusalem.
Kirby told reporters that in order to arrive at a two-state solution “both sides must be willing to take the steps necessary to ratchet down the violence, to tone down the rhetoric, and through policy and decisions and actual actions, move that process forward. It has to start there. It has to start organically.”
“Thus far, we haven’t seen that. We haven’t seen decisions get made to propel that process forward, and that’s what we continue to want to see. In order to get there, you’ve got to have leadership on both sides of this be real leaders and make tough decisions and be willing to compromise,” Kirby said.
In a sharply worded statement, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman focused his comments solely on Israel and said that the reclassification was an “an impediment to the two-state solution.”
“Such actions appear to point toward an increase in settlement activity and demonstrate that Israel is continuing to push forward in the consolidation of its control of the West Bank,” Ban said in a statement.
“Settlements are illegal under international law and the secretary general urges the government of Israel to halt and reverse such actions in the interest of a just and comprehensive peace and a just and final status agreement,” the statement continued.
A 45-day appeal process is set to ensue.
According to the left-wing NGO Peace Now, which monitors settlement activity in the territories, the intention is to use the land reclassification to expand tourism and trade opportunities.
PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat condemned the move, saying it is part of Israel’s “plan to impose an apartheid regime in occupied Palestine.”
“Israel, the occupying power, continues its colonial project by maintaining its belligerent occupation and by annexing more Palestinian lands throughout the occupied West Bank, including the Jordan Valley,” he said.