Jewish National Fund Leadership Okays Plan to Expand West Bank Settlements

The organization's board of directors still needs to approve the decision, which would allow it to expand its purchase of land in the West Bank for the benefit of Jewish settlements, and will do so after the election

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The Pnei Kedem outpost in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc in the West Bank, in 2019.
The Pnei Kedem outpost in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc in the West Bank, in 2019.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Jewish National Fund leadership approved a proposal on Sunday to officially change the organization's policy so as to allow the organization to expand its purchase of land in the West Bank for the benefit of the Jewish settlement enterprise.

The proposal is still awaiting the approval of the organization's board of directors, which will only decide on the issue after Israel's March 23 election. The decision to defer the board's decision followed threats by several members of JNF leadership to resign, in additon to a request from Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

According to the proposal, which has faced criticism from the U.S. State Department, the JNF would acquire privately owned West Bank 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.

A short time before the discussion on the proposal began, Defense Minister Gantz wrote a letter to JNF Chairman Avraham Duvdevani seeking a delay in the board's decision until the security establishment and Israel Civil Administration in the West Bank can hold consultations on the matter. Gantz wrote that he believes the decision is "extremely sensitive" and that it may have consequences on a national level – related both to Israel's relationship with the Biden administration in the United States and to Diaspora Jewry.

In a separate decision that is also subject to board approval, the JNF leadership decided to allocate 38 million shekels ($11.7 million) for the acquisition of West Bank land. The JNF, 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 it has done so through a subsidiary.

The proposal would give 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 states that no land would be purchased in the Nablus or Jenin areas.

According to the proposal, the JNF, which is known in Hebrew as Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, 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 agency in the West Bank. It is based on a legal opinion issued 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 board of directors on a physical disk rather than remotely by computer, and they were asked to keep it confidential.

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."

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