update deskIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

Coalition lawmakers tour illegal Palestinian city in Judean Desert

"Their ploy here, in this contractual [nature] reserve, is to cut off Gush Etzion from the Dead Sea."

Israeli lawmakers tour an illegal Palestinian city being constructed in the Judean Desert south of Jerusalem, Sept. 21, 2023. Credit: Courtesy.
Israeli lawmakers tour an illegal Palestinian city being constructed in the Judean Desert south of Jerusalem, Sept. 21, 2023. Credit: Courtesy.

Members of the Knesset Land of Israel Caucus traveled to the Judean Desert on Thursday for a tour of an illegal Palestinian city that critics say seeks to cut off Gush Etzion from the Dead Sea.

Last month, the Gush Etzion Regional Council, which administers the bloc of Jewish communities south of Israel’s capital, launched a public relations campaign against the Palestinian Authority’s attempt to build in the area, which the council says violates agreements signed between Israel and the PLO.

Under the 1998 Wye River Memorandum, intended to facilitate the implementation of the 1995 Oslo II agreement, the area under dispute is designated as a nature reserve, and Ramallah agreed it would make “no changes in the status of these areas.”

Thursday’s tour, which was organized in conjunction with the Yesha Council and the Regavim NGO, was attended by coalition lawmakers Yuli Edelstein, Amit Halevi Etty Atiya and Ariel Kellner of Likud, Limor Son Har-Melech of Otzma Yehudit, and Simcha Rothman and Ohad Tal of Religious Zionism.

Gush Etzion Regional Council Chairman and Yesha Council head Shlomo Ne’eman has called Jerusalem’s failure to put a stop to the project a “loss of governance on the most serious level” that threatens the Jewish presence in the region.

“The Palestinian Authority is an enemy and the enemy attacks everywhere. Their ploy here, in this contractual [nature] reserve, is to cut off Gush Etzion from the Dead Sea by placing a barrier between them,” Ne’eman told the Land of Israel Caucus, calling on them to “stop this crime.”

Son Har-Melech said the minister of defense and prime minister have an “obligation” to intervene in the P.A.’s building plans.

“I visited here only a month ago and everything has already changed. Entire areas are enclosed with luxury, concrete buildings. They are actually building a city here,” said Son Har-Melech, adding that the project “endangers the territorial and strategic continuity of the State of Israel.”

Halevi said, “None of us is surprised that the P.A. has grossly violated the agreement. They have been serial violators of the Oslo Accords from the minute they were signed.

“We must immediately put a stop to this annexation of the Judean Desert, which is creating Palestinian continuity from Jerusalem to Hebron and constitutes a strategic danger to the country. At the same time, we must create a chain of Jewish communities connecting Gush Etzion with the Dead Sea,” Halevi added.

Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee head Rothman, a resident of the nearby community of Pnei Kedem, likewise called on the government to strengthen the Jewish presence in the area.

“As a resident living on the border of the contractual [nature] reserve, what will create change in this area is bringing residents to the area,” Rothman said.

“We have a window of opportunity to take action,” said Edelstein, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. “Now that we have taken the tour, we shall work with the prime minister and the defense minister, and we’ll manage this incident before the window of opportunity closes.”

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