Israel has decided to grab large swathes of land in the northern and central West Bank, to make up as it were for the planned unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip.
According to Israeli press sources, the seizure of the land has already started around at least three Jewish settlements - Ariel, Kedumim and Immanuel.
Some reports say Israeli army officers have handed Palestinian farmers notifications informing them of confiscation of their land.
One of the areas hard-hit by the latest spate of land seizures is the district of Salfit, located between Nablus and Ram Allah.
One municipal council official described the confiscation as "amounting to passing a death penalty on our district".
"I could safely say that the confiscations would reduce dozens of villages in our area to de facto detention camps and kill the livelihood of tens of thousands of people," said
Jamal Mahboba, deputy mayor of Salfit.
Fresh land seizures are a possible
sop for the angry far-right lobby
"This is unfortunately happening before the eyes of the world and nobody seems to be doing anything about it."
He warned that the building of the annexation wall east of the settlement of Ariel would result in a "catastrophe in letter and spirit" for his town and surrounding villages.
"I can tell you it is ethnic cleansing, like what the Nazis did in Europe. The world must do something before it is too late."
The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported on Monday that Israel is planning to create "fingernail zones" and later "finger zones" in the Salfit area.
These zones are to surround the large Jewish settlements of Kedumim in the north, Immanuel and Karnei Shomron in the centre, and Ariel in the south.
Thanks to these land grabs, Israel would be able to extend the so-called separation wall east of the Ariel settlement, deep into the West Bank's heartland.
"We knew from the very inception that [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon's disengagement plan in Gaza had another code name and that is the 'annexation of the West Bank'," Palestinian political analyst Hani al-Masri told Aljazeera.net.
"The confiscations would
reduce dozens of villages in our area to de facto detention camps and kill the livelihood of tens of thousands of people"
Deputy Mayor, Salfit
He quoted a recent Israeli press report according to which Sharon sought to assure an unnamed cabinet minister opposed to the Gaza plan, that the pullout would enable Israel to neutralise once and for all UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and enjoy "50 years of safety, security and serenity".
"In any case, what is important is not the [Ha'aretz] report itself but what is happening on the ground, and what is happening proves the veracity of the report beyond any doubt," al-Masri said.
Senior Palestinian Authority officials were not available to confirm whether the PA was planning to go the Security Council to highlight the rash of land seizures in the West Bank.
A junior Foreign Ministry official told Ajazeera.net that the PA was likely to embark on such a course.
"Yes, we do have a bitter and discouraging experience with the Security Council and the recurrent vetoing by the United States of resolutions that would have given us some justice.
"However, going to the UNSC would be innocuous at the very worst. Even if Washington used its veto power, brazen US backing of Israeli settlement expansion would be exposed and world opinion would be further mobilised in favour of the just Palestinian cause," said the junior official speaking on condition of anonymity.
An Israeli Government spokesman denied the Palestinian assertions that Israel was annexing the bulk of the West Bank to compensate the settlers and the far-right camp for "losing" the Gaza Strip.
|More land confiscations may be in|
store for West Bank Palestinians
Responding to questions from Aljazeera.net, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Amira Oron said a final decision on annexing additional territory in the northern West Bank had not yet been taken.
"We still have to discuss these matters with the US administration. Now we are busy building the separation wall around Jerusalem. But I can tell you that the government plan to disengage from Gaza has nothing to do with any plans pertaining to the West Bank," she said.
Oron said Israel was committed to the roadmap plan and the government was still interested in creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Sole legal basis
Palestinian analyst al-Masri, however, begs to differ.
He says Sharon no longer regards the US-backed roadmap plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians as binding despite public statements to the contrary.
"His real reference is the pledges he received from President Bush," said al-Masri, referring to a set of guarantees Sharon obtained from the White House during his visit to Washington on 14 April.
"We knew from the
very inception that Sharon's disengagement plan in Gaza had another code name and that
is the 'annexation of
the West Bank'"
Palestinian political analyst
In that meeting, Bush assured Sharon that Israel would be allowed to keep at least some of the settlements in the West Bank in the event of a final-status settlement with the Palestinians.
The Palestinians, indeed the entire Arab world, rejected Bush's guarantees as brazenly incompatible with UN Resolutions 242 and 338 and the formula of "land for peace", which according to them constitute the sole acceptable legal basis and on which all international peace efforts and initiatives since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war have been conceived.
In the final analysis, it is worth noting that Israel doesn't consider the area known as Greater Jerusalem, which has a total area of nearly 300 square kilometres, a part of the West Bank.
Israeli Prime Minister Sharon, notwithstanding his professed acceptance of the roadmap, has repeatedly said he wouldn't agree to give the Palestinians back more than 42% of the West Bank.
Sharon got political cover for his
policy in Bush's 14 April pledge
Indeed, Israel has already effectively confiscated over 50% of the West Bank's nearly 5000 square kilometers.
Put bluntly, as Palestinian political analyst al-Masri says, the latest land seizures will irreversibly kill any possibility of the creation of a Palestinian state worth its name.