Netanyahu retains control of key decisions on West Bank - analysis

This means that every significant decision regarding the West Bank will need Netanyahu's approval.

 LIKUD LEADER BENJAMIN Netanyahu shakes hands with United Torah Judaism MK Yitzhak Goldknopf in the Knesset last week. If Netanyahu’s promise of a full budget for all haredi educational institutions is realized, the already-low incentive to provide core studies will disappear entirely. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
LIKUD LEADER BENJAMIN Netanyahu shakes hands with United Torah Judaism MK Yitzhak Goldknopf in the Knesset last week. If Netanyahu’s promise of a full budget for all haredi educational institutions is realized, the already-low incentive to provide core studies will disappear entirely.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The most important words in the part of the coalition agreement between the Likud and the Religious Zionist Party are "in coordination and agreement with the prime minister."

The most contentious issue – and one that could cause the biggest rift with the US and international community – is Israel's policy in the West Bank.

Netanyahu gave Smotrich a foothold in the Defense Ministry, with an RZP minister responsible for settlement in the West Bank who will act – and this is key – "in cooperation and agreement" with Netanyahu.

This means that every significant decision regarding the West Bank will need Netanyahu's approval. Netanyahu knew that if the full responsibility was given to RZP, it would only be a matter of time until Israel came under attack from its allies – leading to pressure on Netanyahu, ultimately destroying his government and ruining his legacy.

Headaches for Likud

Netanyahu knew that at some point or other this would explode, and therefore managed to completely avoid it by defusing the bomb. The Likud chairman will still have his fair share of headaches because of his coalition partners, but the most painful one was avoided.

 IDF operates in West Bank as part of Operation Break the Wave, December 1, 2022 (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT) IDF operates in West Bank as part of Operation Break the Wave, December 1, 2022 (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

This was the primary reason that the talks took so long, and the reason why Netanyahu's negotiating team did everything it could to get Smotrich off the tree he had climbed up – first to give up on becoming defense minister, then to give up on the Civil Administration moving to the Finance Ministry, and finally on the ability to have exclusive rights to decisions over such sensitive matters.

Netanyahu did the exact same thing to Otzma Yehudit’s Itamar Ben-Gvir, who received a fat package, including an enlarged public security ministry that included certain power in the West Bank – with the Judea and Samaria Border Police moving from the Defense Ministry to Ben-Gvir.

Yet a short phrase in that agreement also proved crucial – "the prime minister will form and lead a ministerial committee to regulate the young settlements in the West Bank".

The young settlement issue was crucial to both Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, but, once again, the final say will be Netanyahu's.

Outgoing Finance Minister MK Avigdor Liberman jested on Monday that one thing he could promise was that if Netanyahu stood at the head of the committee, nothing would happen.

Liberman knew what he was talking about. As long as the final decision is Netanyahu's, he will retain control over the most significant decisions in the West Bank – and managed to maneuver both Smotrich and Ben-Gvir in order to achieve this.