The reserves reach about 5,300 hectares, some 40 percent of it under private Palestinian ownership, according to an Israeli settlement watchdog.
Israel’s defense minister Naftali Bennett announced Wednesday the approval of seven nature reserves in illegally occupied sites located in what is known as Area C of the West Bank, an area that includes the strategic Jordan Valley and that is nearly exclusively administered by Israel.
The minister’s office said in a statement that alongside the seven new nature reserves, 12 existing reserves will be expanded.
“Today we provide a big boost for the Land of Israel and continue to develop the Jewish communities in Area C, with actions, not with words,” Bennett was quoted in the statement as saying.
“The Judea and Samaria area has nature sites with amazing views. We will expand the existing ones and also open new ones,” he added, using the Biblical Jewish name for the West Bank.
“I invite all the citizens of Israel to tour and walk the land, to come to Judea and Samaria, sight-see, discover and continue the Zionist enterprise.”
A pro-settler politician and leader of the far right-wing New Right party, Bennett had already said previously that the territory belonged to Israel and his goal was to annex it "within a short time."
The move comes as Bennett is seeking re-election in the March 2 legislative elections, as part of a far-right coalition. The decision is the first of its kind since the signing of the Oslo accords between the Jewish state and the Palestinian Authority (PA).
The PA quickly condemned the declaration and accused Bennett of "erecting a new colonial umbrella to fight the Palestinian presence in those areas."
The designated reserves reach about 5,300 hectares, some 40 percent of it under private Palestinian ownership, according to Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now.
Israeli laws regulating nature reserves would not allow Palestinians to cultivate their own land anymore, the NGO's Hagit Ofran said.
"If it's a nature reserve, then you can uproot their (Palestinians') trees and tell them they need a special permit for any agricultural activity," the NGO told AFP.
"It will be easier now to evict Palestinians from there."
Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights, are illegal under international law, breaching the Fourth Geneva Convention, among other international agreements and U.N. resolutions.
Since his appointment by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in November, Bennett has instructed a series of far-right moves undermining Palestinian rights, including the authorization of a new Jewish neighborhood in the flashpoint city of Hebron, the signature of an order to prevent families of Palestinian convicted on terrorism charges from receiving salaries and payments from the PA, among other decision.