West Bank settlements top Netanyahu agenda

December 29, 2022 by AAP
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Benjamin Netanyahu’s incoming hardline government has put West Bank settlement expansion at the top of its list of priorities a day before being sworn into office.

Leader of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu at an election conference of the Israeli Industrialists Association in Tel Aviv, Israel, 19 October 2022.

Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party released the new government’s policy guidelines on Wednesday, the first of which is “advance and develop settlement in all parts of the land of Israel – in the Galilee, Negev, Golan Heights, and Judea and Samaria” – the Biblical names for the West Bank.

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

Mr Netanyahu’s new 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 commitment on settlements could put the new government on a collision course with its closest allies, including the United States, which opposes settlement construction on occupied territories.

Israel captured the West Bank in 1967 along with the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. The Palestinians seek the West Bank as the heartland of a future independent state. In the decades since, Israel has constructed dozens of Jewish settlements there that are now home to around 500,000 Israelis living alongside around 2.5 million Palestinians.

Several of Mr 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 article 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. Mr Smotrich is set to assume control over the military government in the occupied West Bank under his second role, a newly created position as a minister in the Defence Ministry.

Mr 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.

Mr Netanyahu’s partners are seeking widespread policy reforms that could alienate large swathes of the Israeli public, raise tensions with the Palestinians, and put the country on a collision course with the US and American Jewry.

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


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