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NGO reveals new 'Grand Jerusalem' plan

Maan News Agency      Updated  20 June 2013

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israel intends to appropriate land in Bethlehem to expand the Jerusalem municipal boundaries, a Palestinian NGO revealed Tuesday. 

The Grand Jerusalem plan would see the confiscation of 22,500 dunhams (5,559 acres), Jad Ishaq, the executive manager of the Applied Research Institute - Jerusalem told Ma'an. 

The land is being seized under Israel's Absentee Property Law, which converts land to the State of Israel if the original owner is deemed absent from the land. 

West Bank land is particularly vulnerable to appropriation under this law, as though residents remain on their land, not having a Jerusalem ID card places their status as "absent." 

The land or property is then placed under the purview of Israel's Custodian of Absentee Property, which Ishaq notes is in contravention of international law. 

Israel's Supreme Court approved the confiscation in September. The lands were placed under the Jerusalem 2020 plan in 2005, earmarked as "green" for Israeli development.

Ishaq says the plan will turn the area into a "human warehouse," forcing residents into more confined spaces.

The goal, he said, is further isolate Jerusalem from Bethlehem and create an expansive "settlement band" around the Holy City. 

ARIJ called on the Palestinian Authority to pressure the international community and the European Union into action against the plan. 

"Tell the world how dangerous this scheme is; it is the biggest land robbery," Ishaq said. 

The areas where the land will be taken are Khirbet al-Mazmouriya, Khilet al-Ribway, Wad Saleh, Wad Luqa, Jabal Skhour, Wad Al-Jamal, Jroun al-Humus, Cremisan and all the land built on the nearby Gilo settlement.

Bethlehem Governor Abdul Fattah Hamayel said the plan was a "clear step beyond all international law and rights," and accused Israel's judiciary of bias to "legalize what is best for them [Israelis] and cover up the crimes against Palestinians." 

The revelation follows remarks made by Israeli MK Naftali Bennett who said the idea of Palestinian state had reached a "dead end," and that the state of Palestine never existed.

The PLO and international community has repeatedly called on Israel to halt its settlement expansion campaign to give both sides the opportunity to revive long-stalled negotiations. 

PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat said Monday that recent statements by Israeli officials showed clearly that "Israel officially rejects the two-state solution based on the pre-1967 borders."

"This is clearly part and parcel of an Israeli plan to foil any possibility to establish a Palestinian state. They plan to annex Jerusalem and change the status quo in the city in addition to plans to annex the Jordan valley and other vast areas of the occupied Palestinian state," the PLO official said in a statement.

Israel occupied and annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, a move not recognized by the international community. Settlement building on occupied land and population transfer is considered a violation of international law. 

This article was amended on June 20 2013 to correct the figure of dunhams set for appropriation from 22.500 to 22,500.