Peace Now/Shalom Achshav has sounded the alarm about Israeli government plans to create a new settlement project that could destroy chances for a two-state solution.

The government has allocated a huge area – 1200 dunams (300 acres) – for a new Jewish neighbourhood south of the Palestinian city of Bethlehem and beside the village of a-Nahla. Known as Givat Eitam, this project would expand the settlement of Efrat in a manner that “would surround Bethlehem with settlements,” according to a Ha’aretz report. If implemented, says Peace Now, the new encroachments would cut the southern West Bank in two and make it impossible to create a viable, contiguous Palestinian state.

Givat Eitam has been in the works for quite some time. Years ago, the Ministry of Housing drew up a preliminary plan for 2,500 units in the area. In 2014, Peace Now revealed the Ministry had moved forward on a more detailed plan, but on a limited area of about 300 dunams owned by the Jewish National Fund. Prime Minister Netanyahu torpedoed that plan, and other settlement projects, in the wake of international pressure. Now the government has given the green light for a much larger expansion of settlements at Givat Eitam.

The fact that the plans have been made public is due to a High Court petition by Peace Now demanding that it be given advance notice of government intentions to allocate land for settlement purposes. The government announcement was published on Dec. 26, 2018.

In protesting the move, Peace Now said:

“The government is crossing a red line in promoting the new settlement in a-Nahla, which could be a fatal blow to the chances for a two-state solution and an Israeli-Palestinian peace. Moreover, the Netanyahu government is taking a dangerous step to avoid public criticism in Israel and around the world; it is no accident that this and other settlement announcements over the past few days have been done during the Christmas holidays, when the entire Western world is on vacation, and immediately after the elections in Israel were announced.”

The area of a-Nahla, located south of Bethlehem, is one of the most important and strategic areas for the potential development of Bethlehem. The development of the city is blocked to the north by Jerusalem and the neighbourhoods of Gilo and Har Homa that were built after 1967, and to the west by the separation barrier and the tunnel road that Israel built to connect the Gush Etzion settlements to Jerusalem. In the Bethlehem metropolitan area there are three crowded refugee camps. As such, there is a considerable shortage of land for development and construction, and many residents have purchased land in the area of a-Nahla for future construction, but their land has since been declared by Israel as “state land.”

The area on which Givat Eitam is planned is one that Israel will undoubtedly have to evacuate in order to facilitate a two-state solution. Like a similar plan east of Jerusalem, which is designed to create a corridor from west to east that will sever Palestinian contiguity in the heart of the West Bank, the Givat Eitan plan also aims to create a corridor from west to east-from the settlements of Gush Etzion, through the settlement of Efrat and eastward to the settlements of Tekoa and Nokdim (south of Bethlehem towards Hebron).

The only main road (Route 60) connecting Hebron and the southern West Bank with Bethlehem and onward to the northern West Bank is located west of Efrat. This means that if Israel wants to annex Efrat and surroundings, this vital transportation artery for the Palestinians will be cut off, and it will not be possible to connect the southern and northern parts of the West Bank. Therefore, this plan is considered particularly lethal in terms of the chances of a two-state solution.