In response to Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon's (Likud) announcement last Wednesday that a strategic 40 dunam compound is being officially added to the Gush Etzion region in Judea, the US lost little time in condemning the move.
The land that is being added was purchased by American millionaire Irving Moskowitz and his wife, and is referred to as "Beit Bracha." Jerusalem Councilman and Israel Land Fund (ILF) Director Arieh King covertly obtained the abandoned church complex adjacent to Highway 60 three years ago according to reports, and worked to renovate the compound.
On Friday, US State Department spokesperson John Kirby responded with condemnation to Ya'alon's announcement at a press briefing.
The US is "deeply concerned" by the move according to Kirby, who said it "effectively creates a new settlement on ten acres" of land.
"Along with the regular retroactive legalization of unauthorized outposts and construction of infrastructure in remote settlements, actions such as this decision clearly undermine the possibility of a two-state solution,” said the spokesperson.
Kirby said that "settlement" activity is "illegitimate and counterproductive to the cause of peace," even though the 2012 Levy report proved Israel's presence in its Biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria is legal under international law.
"Continued settlement activity and expansion raises honest questions about Israel’s long-term intentions and will only make achieving a two-state solution that much more difficult,” concluded Kirby.
Kirby has often condemned Israel over activity in Judea, such as last July when he criticized the Jewish state for plans to demolish an illegal Arab settlement built on the ancient Talmudic-era Jewish village of Susya near Hevron.
In contrast, the State Department has not issued strong condemnation towards the Palestinian Authority (PA), even as PA Chairman Mahhmoud Abbas has repeatedly justified and called for terror, and last October said all of Israel is "the occupation," indicating clearly that his intentions are not for a "two state solution."
Regarding Beit Bracha, the complex encompasses 38 dunams (over nine acres) of land next to the "refugee camp" Al-Arroub, and is located strategically between Hevron and Gush Etzion, a stretch of land where currently only one Jewish community exists - Karmei Tzur.
To its north and south are state lands, meaning considerable future expansions of the new town would be possible after it becomes populated and grows. There are eight buildings in the compound, which was founded in the latter part of the 1940s by Thomas Lamby, an American missionary who was active in Ethiopia and arrived in Israel in 1947.
A Presbyterian church was later established at the site with a portion of the buildings serving as prayer halls and another portion as housing. Around 20 years ago, the church was converted into a hostel, which went bankrupt and fell into desolation, and three years ago King is said to have purchased it for Moskowitz.