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Israel’s finance minister now governs the West Bank. Critics see steps toward permanent control

by Gabriel Martinez
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West Bank Governance

The finance minister of Israel, Bezalel Smotrich, has assumed new powers over the occupied West Bank, a move that has raised concerns among critics about Israel’s intentions in the region. This development has occurred amidst the attention on Israel’s controversial judicial changes, diverting attention away from the significant changes happening in the West Bank.

Smotrich, a prominent figure in the settlement movement, has wasted no time in pushing forward his agenda. He has approved the construction of thousands of new settlement homes, legitimized previously unauthorized outposts, and imposed stricter regulations on Palestinian construction and movement. His actions signal a profound shift in the West Bank’s governance and suggest that Israel’s military occupation, which has endured for 56 years, may be transitioning from temporary to permanent.

This transformation came about as part of a coalition agreement between Smotrich and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu, who faces a corruption trial and aims to return to power, made significant concessions to pro-settler lawmakers like Smotrich to secure his governing coalition. As a result, a new Israeli settler agency, led by Smotrich, was established within the Defense Ministry, overseeing construction activities in 60% of the West Bank under Israeli control.

This shift has raised concerns about the transfer of powers from the military, which has obligations to consider the well-being of occupied people, to entities primarily focused on Israeli interests. Smotrich has openly expressed his desire to double the settler population, improve infrastructure, and erase the distinctions between life in the West Bank and Israel proper, thereby diminishing Palestinian hopes for independence.

In his role as finance minister, Smotrich can allocate taxpayer funds to West Bank infrastructure projects. The 2024 budget allocates a record-high $960 million, a quarter of all Transportation Ministry funds, to enhance the connectivity between Israel and the West Bank through a highway network. Notably, the settler population constitutes just over 5% of Israel’s total population.

Smotrich and his supporters view the West Bank as the biblical homeland of the Jewish people and envision a single state covering the entire territory, with Palestinians living as second-class citizens or leaving altogether.

However, these policies have led to an increase in Palestinian suffering, empowered violent settlers, and caused turmoil within Israel’s military establishment. Additionally, recent settlement expansions have strained Israel’s relationship with the international community, particularly the United States.

Monthly settler attacks have surged this year, and thousands of settlement housing units have been approved, alongside the legalization of unauthorized outposts. Palestinian construction without permits continues to be demolished, with over 95% of permit requests rejected. Such actions have been criticized as contributing to a system akin to apartheid.

Smotrich’s aggressive approach to settlement construction has also alarmed Palestinians in the affected areas, leading to increased tensions and settler provocations. Settlers have reported a sense of impunity instilled by the government.

Furthermore, Smotrich’s administration has streamlined the approval process for settlement advancement, allocating substantial funds for housing renovations, hospitals, and schools. New multimillion-dollar bypass roads are being constructed to facilitate movement for Israeli settlers, often bypassing Palestinian towns.

However, these developments have led to clashes and instability in the region, with instances of violence, such as the burning of houses and cars in Palestinian towns. Settler violence has become a major concern, leading to uncertainty within Israel’s defense establishment.

In conclusion, the actions of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and the Israeli government’s policies in the West Bank have raised significant questions about the future of the region. Critics argue that these developments may indicate a shift towards permanent Israeli control, exacerbating tensions and instability in the already volatile region.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about West Bank Governance

What are the key developments in the West Bank mentioned in the text?

The text highlights several key developments in the West Bank, including Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich assuming new powers, approval of new settlement homes, legalization of unauthorized outposts, and stricter regulations on Palestinian construction and movement.

What is the significance of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s role in the West Bank?

Smotrich’s role as Finance Minister marks a significant shift in governance, suggesting that Israel’s control over the West Bank may be transitioning from temporary to permanent. He is a prominent figure in the settlement movement and aims to increase the settler population while erasing distinctions between the West Bank and Israel proper.

How has Smotrich’s administration affected the Palestinian population?

Smotrich’s policies have led to an increase in Palestinian suffering, empowered violent settlers, and strained Israel’s relationship with the international community. Palestinians face difficulties in obtaining construction permits, and their homes are often demolished. Settler attacks have surged, causing tensions in the region.

What has been the international response to these developments?

The international community, including the United States, overwhelmingly considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal. Recent settlement expansions and Smotrich’s policies have strained Israel’s relations with the international community, particularly regarding the Palestinian issue.

How has the Israeli defense establishment been affected by these developments?

Smotrich’s aggressive approach to settlement construction and his influence on the Israeli government’s policies have caused uncertainty and instability within Israel’s defense establishment. There have been instances where military decisions and the enforcement of the law have been influenced by Smotrich’s intervention, leading to concerns within the military.

What is the overall impact of these developments on the West Bank region?

These developments have raised significant concerns about the future of the West Bank, with critics suggesting that they may indicate a shift towards permanent Israeli control. This has exacerbated tensions and instability in an already volatile region.

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