Israel has approved the establishment of what it calls nature reserves in the occupied West Bank, sparking an angry reaction from Palestine, which vowed to lodge a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the latest “scheme” to steal more Palestinian land.
Right-wing Israeli minister of military affairs, Naftali Bennett, authorized Wednesday the plan, which had been blocked by the Tel Aviv regime for years, to create nature sites in West Bank’s Area C that is under full Israeli control.
He also announced the expansion of 12 existing West Bank nature reserves, including Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in caves decades ago.
Israel’s so-called Civil Administration in the West Bank IOA is now tasked with advancing the move. Later, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority will oversee the opening of the nature sites.
Bennett said that under the project, the reserves would be “under the responsibility” of the Nature and Parks Authority.
“The Judea and Samaria area has nature sites with amazing views. We will expand the existing ones and also open new ones,” he said, referring to the the occupied West Bank by its biblical name. “I invite all the citizens of Israel to tour and walk the land, to come to Judea and Samaria, sight-see, discover and continue the Zionist enterprise.”
It is the first time since the 1993 Oslo I Accord that such an approval had been issued.
Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now said the designated reserves total about 13,000 acres (5,300 hectares), some 40 percent of it under private Palestinian ownership.
Hagit Ofran, of Peace Now, said Israel laws regulating nature reserves bar Palestinians from cultivating their own land.
“If it’s a nature reserve, then you can uproot their (Palestinians’) trees and tell them they need a special permit for any agricultural activity,” she told AFP. “It will be easier now to evict Palestinians from there.”
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry denounced Bennett’s announcement as an attempt to further develop Israeli settlements, saying it will take the matter to The Hague-based ICC.
“The Foreign Ministry condemns in the strongest terms Bennett’s colonialist and expansionist decisions and affirms that the so-called nature reserves are just another scheme for the appropriation and seizure of Palestinian land,” it said in a statement, adding that the project is aimed at “shoring up settlements in the occupied West Bank.”
The ministry further stressed that it “will approach the ICC to inform it of the legal dangers of Bennett’s declaration as part and parcel of the settlements file that will bring Bennett and others like him in front of the ICC.”
In December 2019, the ICC decided to launch a full investigation into war crimes in the Palestinian territories.
The decision raised alarm among Israeli officials and military personnel, who may face global arrest warrants as a result of the probe, which apparently covers a wide range of issues including the regime’s settlement policy in the occupied West Bank.
The Palestinians and most of the international community consider Israeli settlements illegal.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which was adopted in December 2016, pronounced settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem “a flagrant violation under international law.”