Israel seizes Palestinian land for barrier
PA officials condemn move and urge international community to intervene
Daily Star | August 25, 2005
Israel has issued orders to seize Palestinian-owned land to build a section of its separation barrier around the largest Jewish settlement in the West Bank, the Justice Ministry said.
Palestinians condemned the construction of the barrier around Maaleh Adumim and accused Israel of quietly issuing the land-confiscation order while the world's attention was focused on the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
Israel says the barrier is needed to keep suicide bombers from entering the country. The Palestinians accuse Israel of imposing a border that will swallow up chunks of territory they claim for a future independent state.
When complete, the 680-kilometer wall is expected to include about 8 percent of the West Bank.
Amos Gil, executive director of Ir Amim, an Israeli settlement monitoring group, said the Maaleh Adumim confiscation would seize about 60 square kilometers of land.
Attorney General Meni Mazuz approved the order after a legal review, the Justice Ministry said.
The orders were posted on Monday in part of the territory to be seized - a desert area inhabited mostly by bedouin Arab farmers, Gil said. More expropriation orders are expected to be issued in the coming days or weeks, he added.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has repeatedly said his withdrawal from Gaza and part of the West Bank will cement Israel's hold on large West Bank settlement blocs, including Maaleh Adumim. About 30,000 people live in the settlement, located on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
The head of Israel's main anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now said that there has been a big increase in the West Bank settler population since Sharon unveiled his Gaza withdrawal plan 18 months ago.
"We know for example that just between December to the beginning of July of this year, 6,000 people have moved" to the West Bank, Yaariv Oppenheimer said.
The Palestinians say the Gaza withdrawal must be the first step toward a negotiated settlement giving them an independent state that includes all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
"Such decisions will only serve to undermine any efforts to resume negotiations," said a senior Palestinian official, Saeb Erekat. "This will destroy [U.S.] President [George W.] Bush's vision of a two-state solution."
Samir Huleileh, secretary of the Palestinian Cabinet, urged the international community to intervene. Palestinian officials are preparing to oppose the action in Israel courts, he said.
The United States opposes the construction of the barrier on disputed land.
The latest Israeli move will take land that is especially vital for the Palestinians, Gil said.
"We argue that the real reason for this is political, to annex another large part of the West Bank to Israel," Gil said. "This will cut the West Bank in half and you won't be able to have a viable Palestinian state."
Meanwhile, Israel said Wednesday all its soldiers would be out of the Gaza Strip within a month, ending four decades of occupation of the Palestinian territory.
A day after Israel uprooted settlers from 21 Gaza settlements and four in the West Bank in just a week, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz confirmed that the equally momentous departure of his troops was being fast-tracked as well.
And he confirmed Israel has reached an agreement to turn over control over a volatile stretch of the Gaza-Egypt border to 750 Egyptian troops.
The transfer of border supervision to the Egyptians is key to ending Israel's Gaza occupation.
The agreement had been held up by Israeli concerns that weapons and explosives would be smuggled across the border from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula into Gaza once its troops leave Gaza.
"This agreement ultimately gives comprehensive - and I emphasize comprehensive - responsibility to the Egyptians regarding the prevention of weapons smuggling in the Philadelphi corridor in tunnels and above ground, into the Gaza Strip," Mofaz told Army Radio.
It wasn't immediately clear what responsibilities Palestinian troops on the Gaza side of the border would have.
Israel and the Palestinians, meanwhile, have reached an agreement on disposing rubble from the homes bulldozers have been demolishing in evacuated settlements since late last week, officials from both sides said.
Under the deal, brokered by international Mideast envoy James Wolfensohn, Israel is to demolish all homes in the empty settlements and remove asbestos and any other hazardous materials to sites inside Israel.
The Palestinians are to dispose of the remaining rubble, keeping reusable materials to build a seaport and other houses, and transferring the remainder to a third party.
Israel is to foot the estimated $30 million bill, and expects to complete the demolitions by early September. - AP, AFP