MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
The cease-fire in Gaza between Israel and Hamas has held for 10 days now. But negotiations on Gaza's future have yet to get underway. And repairs to the massive destruction there have barely begun. At the same time, political sparks are flying over an Israeli announcement claiming a thousand acres of land in the other Palestinian territory, the West Bank. Here's NPR's Emily Harris.
(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE PLAYING PING-PONG)
EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Boys battle it out on the ping-pong table in the hilly Israeli settlement of Gva'ot. From this peak in the occupied West Bank, you can see nearby hills that are part of the nearly thousand acres Israel this week claimed as state land. Palestinians say this should be part of their future country. Israel plans to use it to build more settlements.
TAMAR HEKSHER: (Through translator) I think the Palestinians want to stay. This is not the place for it.
HARRIS: Tamar Heksher lives in Gva'ot. Her dad helped build the first Jewish settlement in this area, buying local land before Israel was even a state. For Heksher, this region is already Israel. Like many Israelis, she doesn't call it the West Bank, but uses the area's biblical name.
HEKSHER: (Through translator) To me, Judea and Samaria are the same as Tel Aviv and Haifa. And I think the Palestinians have other possibilities. But the Jews do not.
HARRIS: Other possibilities, she says, like go to Jordan. Palestinian Mahmoud Mifreh farms land in the appropriated territory. Opening a pipe from a Roman-era water catchment to irrigate his fields, he says Israel uses different reasons to take West Bank land.
MAHMOUD MIFREH: For example, for the security, for the road, for the settlements, for everything. Now we are suffering from the war in Gaza.
HARRIS: That war was fought with Hamas, which Israel views as a terrorist organization. Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Fatah, the other major Palestinian political party, is proposing restarting big-picture peace talks to end the decades-old conflict with Israel in the wake of this summer's devastating war. But Abbas wants to keep Hamas involved in a united Palestinian government. Farmer Mifreh calls the a land appropriation a grab timed to hurt Abbas.
MIFREH: I think this step is like a punishment for our president and for our leader.
HARRIS: Local Palestinian land activist Ali Faroun agrees.
ALI FAROUN: (Through translator) It's like a man with two wives. One is a shrew who bites and beats on him. The other is quiet and gentle. After every fight with the difficult one, he goes to the easy wife and takes it out on her.
HARRIS: Hamas would be the shrew. The Palestinian Authority would be Israel's nice wife in Faroun's view.
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HARRIS: Faroun unfolds a map to show exactly which Palestinian areas Israel's newly-claimed land would affect. The line climbs rocky ridges and snakes through valleys. This is the exact neighborhood where three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed in June, one event in the run-up to the war in Gaza. Davidi Perl heads this region's settler council. He says the declaration of state land is to commemorate those three young men.
DAVIDI PERL: If people want to kill us or to try to attack us, we have to show them that we are strong enough. And one of the ways to show that we are strong and we will be here even those that didn't want us to be here, it's to build more.
HARRIS: Palestinian officials criticized the move as illegal and unfair. Some Israelis did too. Hagrit Ofran with the Israeli organization Peace Now says it's dangerous for Israel to take West Bank land right now at the end of a war and with a proposal to restart peace talks looming.
HAGRIT OFRAN: The message that Palestinians might hear from Israel is that the only way to restrain Israeli settlement is by force. And that's very, very dangerous. It makes the moderates of the Palestinians much, much weaker and the chances for us to get to peace much, much harder.
HARRIS: The U.S. has called on Israel to reverse its decision. Israeli officials stressed that Israeli courts will hear any Palestinian claims to the land declared Israeli state property. For now, the move is a potential bargaining chip if Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations restart or one potential challenge to the fragile Gaza cease-fire. Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem.
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