Smotrich receives authority to make West Bank-related IDF appointments

COGAT is the umbrella IDF unit responsible for implementing the government's policies in the West Bank.

 Religious Zionist Party leader MK Bezalel Smotrich (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)
Religious Zionist Party leader MK Bezalel Smotrich
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

A minister within the Defense Ministry from the Religious Zionist Party will receive the power to appoint the head of COGAT (Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories) and of the Israeli Civil Administration in coordination and with the agreement of the prime minister, according to the coalition agreement between the Likud and RZP, which was published Monday morning.

COGAT is the umbrella IDF unit responsible for implementing the government’s policies in the West Bank. The Civil Administration is a branch within it that deals with all civil matters of both Jewish settlers and Palestinians in Area C. The head of COGAT is a major-general, while the head of the Civil Authority is a brigadier-general. The appointments until now have been made by the IDF, with the approval of the defense minister.

The agreement also stipulated that the government’s responses via the State’s Attorney’s Office to appeals in the High Court of Justice on matters connected to settlements will need to be coordinated with the RZP minister within the Defense Ministry, with the prime minister’s approval.

The agreement effectively gives RZP the unprecedented power to nominate senior IDF officers, and therefore it drew criticism from politicians on the Center-Left.

The move draws criticism from the opposing bloc

“The agreement between RZP and the Likud that includes giving broad control to a minister who is not the defense minister is an unprecedented move in the history of the IDF and the defense establishment,” said National Unity MK Gadi Eisenkot, a former chief of staff. “It constitutes subversion under the authority and responsibility of the defense minister and the chief of staff.”

 BEZALEL SMOTRICH will definitely not be receiving the Defense portfolio, says the writer. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) BEZALEL SMOTRICH will definitely not be receiving the Defense portfolio, says the writer. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid said: “[Prime Minister-designate Benjamin] Netanyahu was selling the IDF to the Hardalim [nationalist haredim (ultra-Orthodox)].”

The Likud on Monday said the reports were “twisted and false.”

“After years of negative discrimination against the settlers, the government led by Netanyahu will fix a historic injustice and lead to an equal citizenship reform for the residents of Judea and Samaria, without changing the area’s diplomatic or legal status,” it said in a statement.

“The authorities of COGAT and the Civil Administration will remain in the hands of the Defense Ministry in the existing legal structure,” it added. “The decisions by the minister responsible for COGAT and the Civil Administration will be made with full coordination and agreement of the prime minister, who will continue to lead a balanced and responsible policy.”

“Contrary to the false reports, any directives regarding Judea and Samaria will be given by OC Central Command, and responses to appeals in the High Court will be conducted in coordination with all of the bodies and with the prime minister’s agreement,” the Likud said. “The new agreement will enable better service to the citizens of Israel living in Judea and Samaria, a move that has been necessary for many years, without changing the diplomatic status quo on the ground.”

The agreement between the Likud and RZP includes a number of notable provisions, including the forming of a government committee on settlements led by Netanyahu, with Smotrich as the sole deputy if Netanyahu is not present.

Another clause stipulates that the Education Ministry’s Jewish culture branch will move to the National Tasks Ministry, as will the Jewish identity branch from the Religious Affairs Ministry.

The agreement also includes a clause that irked United Torah Judaism’s Degel Hatorah faction. The clause stipulates that the Committee on Special National Infrastructure Projects and Jewish Religious Services be changed to the Committee on Special National Infrastructure Projects and Reforms, which will be led by a Religious Zionist Party MK.

“Reforms” include the ability to influence laws connected to the Finance Ministry and could serve to bypass the Knesset Finance Committee, led by UTJ MK Moshe Gafni of Degel Hatorah.

Gafni expressed his opposition to the agreement, and Degel Hatorah initially refused on Monday to support the Likud’s bid to replace the Knesset speaker until the issue was worked out. Due to UTJ’s refusal to sign, the Likud has not yet been able to accumulate the necessary 61 signatures to force Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy to convene the Knesset plenum to choose a new speaker.

Gafni on Monday said he expected the issue to be worked out quickly and that UTJ would sign the document. However, at press time on Monday, it had not yet signed.

Last week, the hassidic faction of UTJ, Agudat Yisrael, also refused to sign the document until its demands in the coalition negotiations were met. These included reenactment of the Tal Law from 2002, which exempted full-time yeshiva studies from IDF or national service but was ruled unconstitutional by the High Court in 2012; agreeing on the mechanism that would raise funding for private haredi schools; and returning some of the power to the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry that Agudat Yisrael claimed it had lost to the Heritage Ministry, which went to Otzma Yehudit.

The issue of the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry was reportedly solved on Monday, and as part of the solution, the ministry will receive a new name and become the “Ministry of Jewish Tradition and Jerusalem Affairs.” The position will likely be manned by UTJ MK Meir Porush.

Porush also demanded to receive jurisdiction over the annual Lag Ba’omer event at Mount Meron and to implement the conclusions of the State Commission of Inquiry into the Meron Tragedy of 2021, in which 45 people were crushed to death and approximately 150 people were injured due to overcrowding. Former religious affairs minister National Unity MK Matan Kahana reportedly supported Porush’s demand.

UTJ and Shas have yet to sign agreements with the Likud, and the other parties also only signed jobs appendixes and still need to ink final agreements. Shas was reportedly ready to sign last week already, but Shas chairman Arye Deri broke off a three-way meeting on Monday with Netanyahu and Smotrich due to arguments with Smotrich, KAN News reported.

Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben-Gvir introduced a new demand on Monday despite having signed an agreement with the Likud over a week ago regarding the jobs his party will receive.

Ben-Gvir said ahead of his party’s weekly faction meeting that during the negotiations over the part of the agreement dealing with ideological guidelines, he began to hear “stuttering” regarding two of his central campaign promises: passing a law that gives full immunity to policemen and soldiers; and a demand to change the rules of engagement and give soldiers and policemen greater freedom to use live fire when attacked.

Ben-Gvir demanded in response to become the deputy head of the ministerial committee on legislation, which he argued would give him the necessary tools to enact the legislation he wanted. It was not clear whether the Likud would accept the demand or what will happen if it does not.

The Knesset Arrangements Committee on Monday approved that the interim deputy Knesset speakers will be Likud MK Ofir Katz, Shas MK Ya’acov Margi, UTJ MK Yaakov Tessler and Kahana. The appointments will be finalized in a vote in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday.