Israel has grabbed one of the largest Palestinian land plots in the occupied West Bank, an Israeli watchdog has said in a statement following the revelation by the Israeli Army Radio.
The anti-settlement NGO Peace Now said on Tuesday that the Israeli government has seized 234 hectares of land in an area south of Jericho on March 10.
The group added that plans for expanding nearby Jewish settlements and building tourism and other commercial facilities in the area were already on Israel’s drawing board.
“Instead of trying to clam the situation, the government is adding fuel to the fire and sending a clear message to Palestinians, as well as to Israelis, that it has no intention to work towards peace and two states,” the Israeli organisation said.
Photos of a de facto Israeli confiscation notice were tweeted by the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The notice listed 2,342 dunams (234 hectares) and carried the signature of an official identified on the map as Israel’s “supervisor of government property and abandoned property in Judea and Samaria”, Hebrew terms for the West Bank.
Such an appropriation would be the largest since August 2014, and larger than the 154 hectares area that Israel first said in January it planned to designate as government property near the Dead Sea.
News of those plans drew international condemnation at the time.
“The declaration, which is in fact a confiscation, was meant for the expansion of nearby settlements as well as for trade and tourism projects operated by the settlers,” Peace Now said in the statement.
In October, Israel retroactively legalised about 800 homes in four settlements in the occupied West Bank, according to the interior ministry.
They included 377 homes in the Yakir settlement, 187 in Itamar and 94 in Shilo in the northern West Bank, as well as 97 more in Sansana in the south of the occupied Palestinian territory.
The international community regards all Jewish settlements in the West Bank as illegal. But the Israeli government makes a distinction between those it has authorised and those it has not.
Settlements and outposts are seen as major stumbling blocks to peace efforts as they are built on land that Palestinians see as part of a future state.