Israel will open seven new nature reserves in the occupied West Bank

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 provoked a violent reaction from Israel’s rights groups and the Palestinian leadership that promised to lodge complaints with the United Nations and international courts.

Calling it a “big boost to the land of Israel,” Naftali Bennett, Israel’s defense minister, confirmed the new sites and added that 12 existing reserves will also be expanded, including Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were first discovered. in caves 70 years ago.

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Bennett, who leads the pro-right party of the New Right, said the reserves will be located in Area C, which represents 61 percent of the West Bank and is under total control of Israel.

The lands will include the Jordan Valley, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in September that he planned to annex.

Israeli settlements in the West Bank are considered illegal under international law and to the detriment of a two-state solution widely accepted for the decades-old Israeli Palestine conflict.

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An Israeli soldier stands next to signs indicating distances to different cities on Mount Bental, an observation post in the Golan Heights occupied by Israel

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The Druze participate in a rally in Majdal Shams near the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria

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The Israeli Druze sit together looking at the Syrian side of the Israel-Syria border in the Golan Heights occupied by Israel

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A European member of the United Nations Disconnection Observation Force (UNDOF) using binoculars to look towards the Syrian side of the Golan Heights

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An archive photo taken on October 19, 1973 shows Israeli Defense Minister General Moshe Dayan (R) looking towards the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, four days after the start of the Yom Kippur War

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An archive photo taken in the Golan Heights occupied by Israel on September 5, 2014 shows members of the United Nations Disconnection Observation Force Zone (UNDOF) using binoculars to look towards the Syrian side of the Altos of the Golan

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Members of the United Nations peacekeepers standing in a watchtower during a visit by the Israeli Defense Minister in 2018

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An Israeli soldier stands next to signs indicating distances to different cities on Mount Bental, an observation post in the Golan Heights occupied by Israel

Reuters

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The Druze participate in a rally in Majdal Shams near the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria

Reuters

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The Israeli Druze sit together looking at the Syrian side of the Israel-Syria border in the Golan Heights occupied by Israel

Reuters

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A European member of the United Nations Disconnection Observation Force (UNDOF) using binoculars to look towards the Syrian side of the Golan Heights

AFP / Getty

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An archive photo taken on October 19, 1973 shows Israeli Defense Minister General Moshe Dayan (R) looking towards the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, four days after the start of the Yom Kippur War

AFP / Getty

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An archive photo taken in the Golan Heights occupied by Israel on September 5, 2014 shows members of the United Nations Disconnection Observation Force Zone (UNDOF) using binoculars to look towards the Syrian side of the Altos of the Golan

AFP / Getty

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Members of the United Nations peacekeepers standing in a watchtower during a visit by the Israeli Defense Minister in 2018

AFP / Getty

According to the Israeli rights group Peace Now, which oversees the expansion of the settlements, more than a third of the proposed location of the new reserves is on Palestinian private land, which makes it illegal even under Israeli law.

“Today we provide a great boost to the land of Israel and we will continue to develop the Jewish communities in Area C, with actions, not with words,” said Mr. Bennett.

“I invite all citizens of Israel to tour and tour the land, to come to (the West Bank), sightsee, discover and continue the Zionist enterprise.”

Bennett said it would be the first time that decision was made since the Oslo Accords were signed in the 1990s.

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He is likely trying to gather support while seeking reelection to the Knesset in the next March 2 vote.

The Palestinian Authority hastened to condemn the latest movement, accusing Bennett of “erecting a new colonial umbrella to combat the Palestinian presence in those areas.”

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The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said it would make complaints about the “dangerous announcement” at the UN and in international courts.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemns in the strongest terms the colonialist and expansionist decisions of Bennett and affirms that the so-called nature reserves are just another scheme for the appropriation and seizure of Palestinian lands,” said the ministry, according to WAFA, Palestinian news agency.

The ministry added, “This is taken to the end in favor of propping up settlements in the occupied West Bank.”

The Israeli rights group Peace Now said the measure was part of restricting Palestinian access to their lands and normalizing the annexation of parts of the West Bank.

Peace Now says that Israel has 96 nature reserves and 14 national parks in the West Bank, despite being a violation of international law.

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Brian Reeves, a spokesman for the group, said 31 Israeli settlements or outposts were built partially or entirely within these reserves.

“These reserves fulfill a broader function of keeping the land out of reach of the Palestinians. Nature reserves and national parks have also been used to prevent Palestinian construction, ”Reeves told The Independent.

“Under international law, any Israeli construction or designation in the West Bank is illegal. But 38 percent of these lands are on private Palestinian lands, which adds a second layer of illegality under Israel’s own laws, “he said.

He added; “They are trying to slowly seize Area C as if it were not an occupied territory. No two-state solution could imagine that 61 percent of the West Bank is part of Israel.”

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