Israel grants extremist Smotrich and settlers sweeping powers in West Bank

Israel grants extremist Smotrich and settlers sweeping powers in West Bank
Israel's military has quietly handed far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich significant new powers in the West Bank with fears of an all-out annexation.
2 min read
21 June, 2024
Smotrich now has significant powers over Palestinians in the occupied West Bank [Getty]

Israel's extreme -right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich was quietly handed significant powers last month over the occupied West Bank, a step which could move Israel's annexation of the Palestinian territory closer.

Smotrich's Settlements Administration will now oversee a range of laws and regulations governing civilian life in the West Bank, likely resulting in a deepening of the oppression against Palestinians and boosting the status of illegal Israeli settlers there.

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Details show how the Israeli military transferred a number of powers from its Civil Administration to Smotrich, who also has responsibilities within the defence ministry.

Smotrich, who is a settler himself, has been looking to take over the powers of Civil Administration, which oversees some bureaucratic powers for the military in the occupied West Bank, in order to expand the Israeli settler presence in the territory and crush Palestinian resistance to Israeli control.

Israel exercises direct control over 60% of the occupied West Bank, while President Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority has limited authority in Palestinian cities and towns.

This move appears to finalise the hand over of significant powers to Smotrich, which were reported last year by Israeli media, and will make the construction of new illegal settlements easier via reduced checks and balances.

In April, Smotrich selected a key ally, Hillel Roth, as deputy governor of the Civil Administration in another move that strengthens the settler movement's governance of the West Bank.

The move is widely viewed as a significant step toward Israel's annexation of large parts of the West Bank, which the would likely see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu face further international criticism.

The settler movement, represented by far-right figures such as Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, had for years attempted to obtain these civilian powers, which includes the administration of agricultural land, forests, and leisure sites.

Palestinians have lived under stifling occupation since Israel seized control of the West Bank in 1967, with settlement expansion a key component of the oppression.

There has been a wave of violence against Palestinians since Netanyahu formed a coalition government with far-right parties in 2023, handing over key ministerial positions to extremists such as Smotrich and Ben-Gvir.

Since 7 October, Netanyahu has given  further concessions to extreme-right and ultra-Orthodox coalition partners.

At least 547 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli army and settlers in the West Bank since the war on Gaza broke out, and over 8,000 Palestinians have been detained as well.