‘West Bank Settlement Is Top Priority’: Netanyahu Govt

'West Bank Settlement Is Top Priority': Netanyahu Govt
Israeli PM-elect Benjamin Netanyahu | Image sources: The Indian Express/Freepik

As part of a coalition deal with its ultra-national allies, Benjamin Netanyahu’s incoming hard-line government put the expansion of West Bank settlements at the top of its priorities on Wednesday, vowing to legalise and annex dozens of illegally built outposts, as reported by the Indian Express

Aside from supporting discrimination against people belonging to the LGBTQ+ community, the coalition agreements include generous stipends for ultra-Orthodox men who choose to study instead of work.

In addition to laying the foundation for what is expected to be a stormy start for Netanyahu, the package may also put the government at odds with large segments of the Israeli public, and Israel’s closest allies abroad. “Advance and develop a settlement in all parts of the land of Israel,” including Judea and Samaria, the biblical names for the West Bank, was the starting point of its lengthy list of guidelines.

Along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, the West Bank was captured by Israel in 1967. The West Bank is an important part of Palestine’s vision for an independent state in the future. Around 500,000 Israelis live alongside about 2.5 million Palestinians in the dozens of Jewish settlements Israel has constructed there during the last few decades. West Bank settlements are considered illegal and as obstacles to peace with Palestinians, by most of the international community. With hopes for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state dwindling, the United States has warned the incoming Israeli government not to undermine them.

Besides his Likud party, Netanyahu’s new government includes ultra-Orthodox parties, an ultranationalist religious faction affiliated with the West Bank settler movement, and a far-right religious faction. The swearing-in ceremony of the new government is scheduled for Thursday. The Religious Zionism party Tkuma, including most of Netanyahu’s allies, is dominated by ultranationalist West Bank settlers.

According to reports, Likud and Tkuma have signed a coalition agreement in which Netanyahu has pledged to legalise the currently illegal wildcat settlement outposts. Additionally, he has promised to annex the West Bank, according to the time chosen by him, and in accordance with Israel’s national and international interests. Such a move would alienate the world and fuel criticisms that compare Israeli policies in the West Bank to the apartheid-hit South Africa.

Moreover, the deal grants favour to Jewish National Front leader Itamar Ben-Gvir, now appointed national security minister, who will oversee the national police. Ben-Gvir lives among a tiny settler community amid tens of thousands of Palestinians in the divided West Bank city of Hebron, where government funding for Israeli settlements will be vastly increased.

Earlier this week, the legislation drew outrage for impinging on LGBTQ+ rights, and pledging to change anti-discrimination laws to allow businesses to refuse service to people for religious reasons. Although Netanyahu said he would not allow the law to pass, the coalition agreement still contains the clause.

It also includes the appointment of Bezalel Smotrich, Tkuma head and a prominent settler, to a newly established ministerial position in charge of settling policies in the West Bank. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Smotrich implied that annexation would not occur right away, by stating that there would be no “changing the political or legal status” of the West Bank. However, he criticised the “feckless military government” in charge of important settlement activities, including building, enlarging, and infrastructure development. Smotrich, who will also serve as finance minister, is anticipated to work tirelessly to increase financing and settlement building while restricting Palestinian advancement in the region.

After being removed from office last year, after holding the position of prime minister from 2009 to 2021, Netanyahu is again back in power. He will assume office while facing accusations of taking bribes, betraying trust, and fraud, all of which he vigorously rejects. Netanyahu’s allies are pushing for policy changes that might alienate significant portions of the Israeli people, aggravate the Palestinians, and put Israel at odds with the United States and American Jews. The Biden administration has vowed to vehemently fight settlement growth and has already chastised the Israeli government for considering it.

In a rare meeting with Ben-Gvir on Wednesday, one of the coalition’s most extreme members, Israel’s figurehead president, voiced “deep concern” about the new administration and its views on LGBTQ+ rights, racism, and the nation’s Arab minority. Following calls from members of his party this week for the legalisation of discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals based on religious conviction, President Isaac Herzog met with Ben-Gvir.

According to Herzog’s office, the president urged Ben-Gvir to “calm the stormy winds, and to be attentive to and internalise the criticism” regarding the new administration’s stance on LGBTQ+ issues, Palestinian-Israeli citizens, and a bill to lift the restriction on politicians who support racism and terrorism from holding office in the Knesset.

The government initiative also addressed the ambiguous legislation governing holy places, including the flashpoint shrine in Jerusalem known to the Jews as the Temple Mount, and to Muslims as the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Ben-Gvir and other Tkuma MPs have called for a change in the “status quo” to allow Jewish worship at the site, a move that might escalate confrontations with the Palestinians. The status of the territory is where the greatest emotional scars of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lie.


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