Israel's Haaretz newspaper condemned Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon's decision to seize Palestinian land in Bethlehem to expand the Gush Etzion settlement bloc.
In its editorial today, Haaretz said: "With the stroke of a pen, Israel seized control of 984 dunams of territory in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, as Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon declared the area 'state land'."
The paper pointed out it would have been better for Ya'alon to announce the land a "contested territory" since it surrounds private Palestinian land which will now become inaccessible to their owners.
According to paper the area includes the illegal Netiv Ha'avot outpost where secretary of Amana, the organisation that builds illegal outposts in the West Bank, Ze'ev Hever lives which would give legitimacy to the outpost to expand.
The newspaper noted that "Ya'alon's outstretched arm did not stop in Gush Etzion. On the eve of Passover he allowed Hebron settlers to inhabit the so-called 'House of Contention', in the wake of the High Court of Justice's rejection of the petition by the home's former owners and ruling that the sale of the building to a Jewish investor was legal."
The newspaper said that although Ya'alon has been working in accordance with his authority to establish distorted infrastructure that has evolved over the decades to circumvent international law.
The editorial wondered: "How could it be that expanding settlements or populating a West Bank Arab city with Jews could be legal, while settlement itself is illegal? The paper refuted the Israeli claims that the major settlement blocs will remain under Israel's sovereignty in any future settlement saying that as long as there is no agreement on the borders of Israel and Palestine, the status of the settlements then the status of these blocs is disputed."
Haaretz said that the timing cannot be ignored where, following the announcement of tenders to build 700 new housing units in Jerusalem which contributed to breaking down the negotiations with the Palestinians, the government decided to highlight its opposing stance of the negotiations by taking steps which have proven effective in breaking the peace process.
The paper concluded that "Ya'alon, who never hid his view that the talks were pointless, is the quintessential representative of this policy. He doesn't represent the law, but rather the extreme right, which is dragging Israel down a path of conflict with the United States and Europe, and sabotaging Israelis' hopes for resolving the conflict with the Palestinians."