The Jewish National Fund (JNF) is reportedly poised to resume buying land in the West Bank after a five-decade hiatus, clearing the way to speed settlement developments amid the threat of US opposition under President Joe Biden.
JNF’s board is expected to approve the new policy on Sunday, according to a report by US media outlet Axios. This would allow for direct involvement in West Bank land deals for the first time since the group stopped making such purchases under pressure from American donors in 1967. Founded in 1901 to buy property for Jews to settle in Ottoman Palestine, the multinational NGO currently owns about 15 percent of all land in present-day Israel.
A draft resolution of the new policy obtained by Axios calls for targeting land in the Jordan Valley and other areas deep in the occupied West Bank. JNF will only buy private, Palestinian-owned land that is in an existing Israeli settlement or immediately adjacent to one. It won’t target property controlled by the Palestinian Authority, which are called Areas A and B.
In Area C – which is fully controlled by Israel and accounts for about 60 percent of West Bank land – pro-settlement lobbyists aim to more than double the population of Jewish settlers to 1 million from today’s level of 400,000. Such ambitions were embraced under former President Donald Trump, whose peace plan for the region gave Israel the green light to annex about 30 percent of the West Bank. Israel has occupied the territory since capturing it during 1967’s Six Day War.
The US plan also required Israel to freeze settlement activity in the other 70 percent of the West Bank for four years, but Trump was the first US president to openly support Israeli annexation of West Bank lands. Trump’s top diplomat, former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, visited the settlements and declared them to be legal under international law.
The newly installed US administration is expected to take a different approach, consistent with Biden’s past opposition to expansionist policies. At least as far back as 1982, he warned Israel that expansion of West Bank settlements would jeopardize foreign aid.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strategy appears to be accelerating settlement activity before the US hammer drops, rather than trying to appease Biden and avert a confrontation. Last month, just nine days before Biden was inaugurated, Netanyahu’s office announced plans to build 800 new settler homes in the West Bank.
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