West Bank settlement expansion top priority for Netanyahu's new far-right Israel government

West Bank settlement expansion top priority for Netanyahu's new far-right Israel government
Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party released the new government's policy guidelines, the first of which is that it will "advance and develop settlement in all parts of the land of Israel', referring to areas including the illegally occupied West Bank.
4 min read
28 December, 2022
Benjamin Netanyahu will be prime minister of Israel's incoming coalition government [SEBASTIAN SCHEINER/POOL/AFP/Getty-archive]

Benjamin Netanyahu's incoming far-right Israeli government put occupied West Bank settlement expansion at the top of its list of priorities on Wednesday, a day before it's set to be sworn into office.

Netanyahu's Likud party released the new government's policy guidelines, the first of which is that it will "advance and develop settlement in all parts of the land of Israel – in the Galilee, Negev, Golan Heights, and Judea and Samaria".

It comes despite the Golan Heights being Syrian territory occupied by Israel and Judea and Samaria – referring to the West Bank – being Israeli-occupied Palestinian land.

The commitment could put the new government on a collision course with its closest allies, including the United States, which opposes settlement construction in the West Bank.

Israel captured the West Bank in 1967 along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Palestinians view the West Bank as the heartland of their future independent state.

In the decades since, Israel has constructed dozens of Jewish settlements there in breach of international law. The settlements in the West Bank, an area home to about 2.5 million Palestinians, now contain around 500,000 illegal Israeli settlers.

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Most of the international community considers Israel's West Bank settlements illegal and an obstacle to peace.

Netanyahu's new far-right government – the most religious and hardline in Israel's history – is made up of ultra-Orthodox parties, an ultranationalist religious faction and his Likud party. It is to be sworn in on Thursday.

The coalition's core policies also include "granting priority" to enacting an "override clause", a measure that would let a majority in Israel's parliament overrule the country's Supreme Court, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

The government also intends to agree to increase soldiers' wages by 20 percent and afford those who have served in the military preferential admission to universities in several disciplines, such as law and engineering.

The policy guidelines said the coalition is also committed to working to deepen and strengthen cooperation with the "Abraham Accords" countries, The New Arab's Arabic sister site, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, reported.

This was a reference to 2020 deals in which the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan controversially agreed to normalise relations with Israel. The decision to regularise ties has been condemned by Palestinians, who view it as a betrayal of their national cause.

Several of Netanyahu's key allies, including most of the Religious Zionism party, are ultranationalist West Bank settlers.

On Wednesday, incoming Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said in an op-ed published by The Wall Street Journal that there would be no "changing the political or legal status" of the West Bank, running contrary to years of advocating annexation of the entire territory.

He levelled criticism at the "feckless military government" that manages civilian affairs for Israeli settlers, including himself.

Israel has been widely criticised for implementing a system of apartheid against Palestinians. In the West Bank, Palestinians are tried under military law while settlers are subject to Israeli civilian law.

Smotrich is set to assume control over the military government in the West Bank under his second role — a newly created position as a minister in the defence ministry.

Netanyahu is returning to power after he was ousted from office last year after serving as prime minister from 2009 to 2021.

He will take office while on trial for allegedly accepting bribes, breach of trust and fraud, charges he denies.

Netanyahu's partners are seeking widespread policy reforms that could alienate large swathes of the Israeli public, raise tensions with Palestinians, and put the country on a collision course with the United States and American Jews.

The Biden administration has said it strongly opposes settlement expansion and has rebuked the Israeli government for it in the past.

Earlier on Wednesday, Israel's figurehead president expressed "deep concern" about the incoming government and its positions on LGBTQ rights, racism and the country's Palestinian minority in a rare meeting called with Itamar Ben-Gvir, one of the coalition's most-radical members.

President Isaac Herzog met with Ben-Gvir, head of the Jewish Power faction and heir to the outlawed politician Meir Kahane, after members of his party called for the legalisation of discrimination against LGBTQ people based on religious belief.

Herzog's office said the president urged Ben-Gvir to "calm the stormy winds and to be attentive to and internalise the criticism" about the incoming government's stance on LGBTQ issues, Palestinian citizens of Israel, and a bill to remove a ban on politicians supporting racism and terrorism from serving in the Knesset, Israel's parliament.

The government platform also mentioned that the rules governing holy sites, including East Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, would remain the same.

Ben-Gvir and other Religious Zionism politicians had called for the "status quo" to be changed to allow Jewish prayer at the site, a move that risks inflaming tensions with the Palestinians.