Israel's Smotrich calls for halt of illegal West Bank outpost construction as 'settlement administration' is established
Israel’s extreme-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich told mayors of illegal West Bank settlements to suspend building new outposts temporarily as he plans to create a new "settlement administration," Israeli media reported.
The head of the Religious Zionism bloc unveiled his plans for the administration - which will violate international law - at a meeting last Thursday with the leaders of the Yesha Council, an umbrella organisation of Jewish councils in the occupied West Bank.
Smotrich said the new administration would operate for two years as part of the Defence Ministry while the Israeli Civil Administration powers are referred to government ministries.
"The government’s policy and that of the minister is to develop settlement, and with God’s help, this will be done in a statesmanlike manner and in accordance with the law," Haaretz reported Smotrich’s office as saying.
Two sources said Smotrich made clear at the meeting that no new outposts should be established right now and that all such activity should be coordinated with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reported the Israeli news website.
Last month, Netanyahu announced his support for transferring responsibility for civilian affairs in the occupied West Bank to Smotrich, following in-fighting between coalition blocs in which Smotrich clashed with Defence Minister Yoav Gallant over control of the Civil Administration. The row was sparked by construction of the Or Hahayium outpost on privately owned Palestinian land.
No timeframe has yet been set for Smotrich’s "settlement administration".
However, it is predicted that the department will be headed by Yehuda Eliyahu, a right-wing ally of Smotrich who cofounded Regavim, an organisation that campaigns against Palestinian construction.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967.
Since then, Israeli authorities have continued to bulldoze Palestinian homes and expand into Palestinian lands, in violation of international law.
Some 700,000 settlers live in the occupied West Bank, according to UN estimates.