Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich on Tuesday demanded that Israeli settlements be governed by the relevant ministries rather than the IDF’s Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria, as part of coalition negotiations with presumptive incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In meetings with the leaders of parties in the right-wing bloc this week, Netanyahu attempted to reach a slimmed-down coalition agreement on cabinet portfolios and for policy aims to be worked out after the government is sworn in. The party leaders have thus far rejected that offer, and the changes in the West Bank are among Smotrich’s policy demands.
What does he want to change?
Israeli towns in Judea and Samaria are under the military government, with the Civil Administration signing orders to apply many of the same laws to them as sovereign Israel. Smotrich seeks to entirely remove settlements from the Civil Administration's jurisdiction, while leaving it intact for governing Palestinians in Area C.
Moving the authority over settlements from the military to the regular government would be akin to extending Israel’s sovereignty to those parts of the West Bank, a step toward annexation.
Smotrich’s spokesman confirmed the demand, which was first reported in Israel Hayom.
“The Right won the trust of the voters and expects its representatives to keep their promises,” he said. “Religious Zionism will float these topics in the negotiations rooms and will certainly demand that the Right govern and keep its word and promises to the public.”
“The citizens of Israel have long known the depth of Smotrich’s ideology,” the spokesman said. “The chairman of the Religious Zionist Party has transparently made his opinions and his plans accessible to the citizens of Israel for years.”
Smotrich has submitted bills to cancel the Civil Administration's authority over Israelis several times. It is managed in an “ad hoc” fashion with civil and military elements that have “led to many failures in efficiency and services given to the population living in Judea and Samaria,” he wrote in the bills’ explanatory portions.
Smotrich also seeks to change the process of authorizing construction in Judea and Samaria, which requires the prime minister and defense minister to approve plans at two different stages. Construction plans should only have to be authorized once, he has said, to avoid the situation that often arose in which there were repeated international condemnations for the same project. This change would be redundant if Smotrich's bigger demand, no longer have Israeli settlements governed by the Civil Administration, is fulfilled.
Smotrich is expected to be named a cabinet minister in the new government and has asked for the Finance Ministry. Netanyahu has reportedly offered him the Education Ministry.