In Area C battle, IDF approves 7 Israeli West Bank nature reserves. Defense Ministry says it`s the first approval of Israeli nature reserves in the West Bank`s Area C since the 1994 Oslo Accords.
Israel approved the creation of seven Israeli nature reserves in Area C of the West Bank, just one week after Defense Minister Naftali Bennett announced that he had embarked on a campaign to ensure that the area remains under the control of the Jewish state.
According to the Defense Ministry, it’s the first time since the 1993 Oslo I Accord that such an approval had been issued. The Defense Ministry’s announcement of the move also includes the expansion of 12 already existing nature reserves.
“Today we are greatly strengthening the Land of Israel by developing Jewish settlement in Area C – with actions, not words,” Bennett said. “Judea and Samaria have natural sites with amazing views. We will expand existing sites and develop new ones.... I invite all Israeli citizens to get up and walk the land, to tour Judea and Samaria, hike, discover new things and to continue the Zionist enterprise,” Bennett said.
The Palestinian Authority condemned the decision to approve the creation of the nature reserves, and said it was another sign of Israel’s intention to apply its sovereignty to the area. The move, the PA said, was aimed at paving the way for Israel to grab large parts of Area C lands and evict Palestinians from their homes.
Once all technical approvals for the projects have been received, the nature sites will be under the auspices of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
Last week, Bennett spoke at the Kohelet Policy Forum about the “battle for Area C” which Israel is waging with the PA. The thousands of dunams will create an ecological corridor through the Jordan Valley, to the Dead Sea and up to Jerusalem, according to Kfar Etzion Field School spokesman Carmi Yogev.
The field school’s director, Yaron Rosenthal, said the move would be for the preservation of animals and wildlife in those areas.
Avraham Binyamin, the spokesman for the right-wing NGO Regavim, said that his organization has long battled the Palestinians to ensure that the areas are preserved. In light of Bennett’s decision, Regavim filed a petition to the Jerusalem District Court against a Palestinian school, which it said was illegally built in the Nahal Makuch Nature Reserve.
The PA Foreign Ministry said it would submit the matter to the International Criminal Court, whose chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has said she believes there is a basis for investigating allegations that Israeli settlement activity has entailed war crimes. The ICC’s pretrial chamber is now examining whether the ICC has jurisdiction to proceed with a case.
In a statement posted on Wafa, the Palestinian news agency, the PA Foreign Ministry said it “will approach the ICC to inform it of the legal dangers of Bennett’s declaration as part and parcel of the settlements file that will bring Bennett and others like him in front of the ICC.”
Photo: Palm trees in the Jordan Valley where some of the nature reserves are located.