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Israeli Defense Chief Approves West Bank Nature Reserves to ‘Develop Jewish Settlement’

Bennett backs establishment of new reserves, some on private Palestinian land.

Hagar Shezaf |  Jan 15, 2020 10:28 PM

A Bedouin village in Nahal Og in the West Bank, where Bennett announced a new nature reserve would be built.Credit: Emil Salman
A Bedouin village in Nahal Og in the West Bank, where Bennett announced a new nature reserve would be built.Credit: Emil Salman

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett approved Wednesday the establishment of seven new national parks and nature reserves in the West Bank, with some apparently to be built on privately owned Palestinian land.

This is the first time that the establishment of new nature reserves has been declared in the West Bank since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, but there have been changes to the borders of existing reserves over the years.

The land on which the reserves are planned to be built is in Area C, the part of the West Bank under full Israeli control.

Defense officials said the new reserves encompass 130,000 dunams (32,000 acres), most of which belongs to the state, while some of the land was bought by Israelis. Some 20,000 dunams of the land slated for construction is privately owned by Palestinians, according to the left-wing organization Peace Now.

In addition, a Bedouin community that lives on one of the lands, will be effectively barred from further building.

Aside from establishing the new reserves, Bennett approved the expansion of 12 existing reserves. His decisions gave governmental approval to plans that Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank had been working on since 2018.

Bennett’s announcement means that Palestinian land owners may be barred from growing crops or pasturing their flocks there. Exact restrictions will depend on the specific rules set for each reserve.

“Today, we’re giving a great boost to the Land of Israel and continuing to develop Jewish settlement in Area C through actions, not words,” Bennett said.

“There are nature sites with stunning landscapes in Judea and Samaria,” he added, using the biblical name of the areas comprising the West Bank. “We’ll expand the existing ones and also develop new sites. I invite all Israelis to get up and roam through the land, come to Judea and Samaria, hike, discover and continue the Zionist enterprise.”  

In late December, the Israel Hayom daily reported that Bennett had ordered the West Bank’s land registry transferred from the Civil Administration to the Israel Land Registry, better known as the Tabu. But legal experts told Haaretz that this move is likely to encounter many obstacles, since it would effectively constitute the annexation of Area C.

Last week, Bennett announced the appointment of Kobi Eliraz as head of a “forum for the campaign over the future of Area C,” whose job is to promote the establishment of settlements in Area C. Eliraz served as the defense minister’s adviser on settlement affairs until last June.

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