Jewish National Fund Aims to Officially Work to Expand West Bank Settlements

The Israeli organization has until now operated in the West Bank through a subsidiary, and is set to discuss a proposal to allow it to officially purchase land in and near settlement blocs

The settlement of Ma'aleh Amos in the West Bank, 2018
The settlement of Ma'aleh Amos in the West Bank, 2018Credit: Emil Salman

The directorate of the Jewish National Fund is expected to meet on Sunday to discuss a proposal that would allow it to purchase land in the West Bank for the potential expansion of settlements.

According to the proposal, the details of which were first published on the Walla news site, the JNF would acquire private land, with priority given to land within settlements, land where construction is expected to face few obstacles, and land adjacent to existing settlements that can be used for their expansion.

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The JNF, an organization founded in 1901 to acquire and develop land in pre-state Israel for Jewish use, has operated unofficially in the West Bank for years, but has done so using a subsidiary.

The organization's proposal gives priority to land in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, the Jordan Valley, areas around Jerusalem, the Binyamin region north of Jerusalem, the South Hebron Hills, and areas adjacent to the pre-1967 border. The proposal indicates that no land would be purchased in the Nablus or Jenin areas.

The proposal states that the JNF would continue with the afforestation of open areas in the West Bank "in order to sustain the land," in coordination with the Civil Administration, the government's administrative body in the West Bank. It adopts a legal opinion that was written for the JNF in September of 2019 by Judge Yosef Alon, which states that the JNF can purchase land in the West Bank that is "intended for Jewish settlement."

The proposal was provided to members of the directorate on a physical disk rather than digitally, and they were asked to keep it secret.

When asked about the matter, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said "we believe it is critical to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and that undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution."

Price added that "unilateral steps might include annexation of territory, settlement activity, demolitions, incitement to violence, the provision of compensation for individuals in prison for acts of terrorism. We have continued to emphasize that it is critical to refrain from all those activities."

The representative of the left-wing Meretz party on the board of directors, Ran Treinin, said it was “a terrible proposal introduced at a terrible time,” adding that he would oppose it at the upcoming board meeting.

Bezalel Smotrich, chairman of the right-wing, pro-settler Religious Zionism party, praised the reported proposal and said implementing it would be among the party's demands during coalition negotiations. "Finally, the JNF is coming around to its historic role – redeeming land in the Land of Israel for the purpose of settling Jews there."

The JNF said in response to this article that it has "been operating throughout the years, and still does so, in a transparent manner, in all parts of the Land of Israel, including Judea and Samaria. The meeting scheduled for next Sunday will discuss and approve principles of action based on a legal brief that was requested and received by the previous board of directors. At this point, there is no intention of developing any new area in Judea and Samaria.”

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