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Israel will seize nearly four square miles of Palestinian territory in the West Bank, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich announced, in what has been described as the single largest land seizure by the Jewish state since the 1993 Oslo Accords, the Washington Post reported.

On Friday, Smotrich said the action was part of Israel’s settlement expansion efforts, saying: “We are promoting settlement through hard work and in a strategic manner all over the country.”

The seized area will include portions of the Jordan Valley and between the settlements of Maale Adumim and Keidar.

Israel took control of the West Bank and Gaza following the 1967 Six-Day War. Although Israeli settlements in the West Bank are considered illegal under international law, Israel has used land orders such as Friday’s to take control of over 16 percent of Palestinian-controlled lands in the territory, the newspaper wrote.

Palestinian land rights advocates warned that the expansion will exacerbate the division between the northern and southern regions of the West Bank, impacting Palestinian livelihoods and trade routes.

Others warned that the land order is especially problematic for the potential of a two-state solution, the Times of Israel reported.

More than 40 percent of the West Bank is controlled by Israeli settlers and more than half a million Jewish residents live there, according to the Israel-based rights group B’Tselem.

The issue has also been complicated for Palestinians in the West Bank: Following the 1967 war, Israel issued a military order that stopped the process of land registration in the West Bank, causing families to lack paperwork to prove that they have private ownership over their land.

Tax records – the only other evidence to prove property rights – are not accepted by Israeli authorities.

Last year, the Israeli parliament – dominated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultra-conservative coalition – bypassed a longstanding requirement for approval from the prime minister and defense minister for West Bank settlement construction. Smotrich, a key leader in the settlement movement, now holds significant sway over construction planning, approving a record number of settlements in 2023.

Meanwhile, analysts described the recent seizure as a “provocation” as they came during a visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Israel for discussions about the future of the war in Gaza.

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