Spokesman John Kirby said on Friday that the US State Department condemns Israel’s decision to add a 10 acre compound to the Gush Etzion bloc in Judea.
Kirby called the settlements, “illegitimate and counterproductive to the cause of peace”. He continued:
“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.”
Israel Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon reportedly approved the expansion last month, adding it to the jurisdiction of the regional council. Located on Route 60 between Gush Etzion Junction and Hebron, the compound contains eight buildings including an abandoned church. It was purchased in 2008 by American philanthropist Irving Moskowitz and his wife, and has been named “Beit Bracha” (the house of blessing).
A settlement of 20 families is planned for the location. A new fence has been built despite a stop-work injunction by the Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank, which cited the lack of a building permit for the fence.
Near the Arab village El Aroub, the area has been the focus of recent violence by Arabs.
The compound was built in the latter part of the 1940s by Thomas Lambie, 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 hospital for tuberculosis patients. Lambie died and was buried at the site in 1954 and the compound was abandoned and fell into disrepair.
In 2008, Aryeh King, the Director of the Israel Land Fund (ILF), an organization that buys Palestinian property and homes for resale to Jews, purchased it for Moskowitz under the guise of a Swedish company called Scandinavian Seamen Holy Land Enterprises. After buying the property, the Swedish company registered the purchase with the Israeli Civil Administration in 2012 and received necessary approval. The company announced its dissolution, its only assets being the compound. Ownership of the compound was then passed to the nonprofit organization American Friends of the Everest Foundation. The organization operates from East Jerusalem, and its sole contributor is Mr. Moskowitz.