Israel's new gov't pledges to promote West Bank annexation policies

It did not clarify what the borders of that statement contained but it did pledge to “promote and develop all parts of the Land of Israel.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the Efrat settlement located in the Gush Etzion region just outside of Jerusalem (photo credit: IGOR USDACHI)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the Efrat settlement located in the Gush Etzion region just outside of Jerusalem
(photo credit: IGOR USDACHI)

The new government pledged to promote policies under which sovereignty would be applied to portions of the West Bank, as part of the coalition agreement that was reached between the Likud and the Religious Zionist Party.

“The nation of Israel has a natural right to the Land of Israel,” section 118 of the coalition agreement stated.

“In light of the belief in that aforementioned right, the prime minister will formulate and promote policies within whose framework sovereignty will be applied to Judea and Samaria,” the document stated.

"In light of the belief in that aforementioned right, the prime minister will formulate and promote policies within whose framework sovereignty will be applied to Judea and Samaria."

Coalition agreement

It added that the timing of the application of this sovereignty would be weighed against Israel’s “national and international” interests.

The language was similar to portions of the agreement which had been leaked to the press in the last weeks.

 Head of the Otzma Yehudit party MK Itamar Ben Gvir at a special committee in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on December 18, 2022.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Head of the Otzma Yehudit party MK Itamar Ben Gvir at a special committee in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on December 18, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

It was also part of the agreement that, along with all the other coalition agreements, was submitted to the Knesset on Wednesday in advance of the government’s anticipated swearing in on Thursday.

Development plans

The overall government’s policy statement did not speak of sovereignty, but it referenced the Land of Israel and in so doing did not distinguish between territory that was within and without the country’s sovereign borders.

“The Jewish people have an exclusive and unquestionable right to all areas of the Land of Israel.”

Israeli government

“The Jewish people has an exclusive and inalienable right to all areas of the Land of Israel,” the government said in its overall policy statement.

It did not define the territorial borders of that declaration but it did pledge to “promote and develop all parts of the Land of Israel.”

The policy statement, however, did explain that the land slated for development included the Galilee, the Negev and the Golan Heights, all of which are contained within the country’s sovereign borders.

Within that same line, the government pledged to develop Judea and Samaria, which in effect is Area C of the West Bank, which is located outside of its sovereign territory. That territory is under IDF military and civilian control.

The office of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas immediately condemned the new government’s intention to strengthen its hold in the West Bank, on land it believes should be part of the final borders of its state.

Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh warned that the guidelines constituted a “dangerous escalation” and would have “regional repercussions,” according to Palestinian news agency WAFA.

Without an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital, there would be no security or stability in the region, Rudeineh said, as he called on Washington to prove it is committed to a two-state resolution to the conflict.

Israeli-Arab NGO Adalah warned that the reference to the “exclusive Jewish rights to the Land of Israel  amounts to a complete denial of this right to the Palestinians, in all the territories under its control.”

Adalah added that this “serves as a clear commitment to preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

In its policy statement, the government promised to strengthen the status of Jerusalem. It further expanded on that pledge in its agreement with the RZP, where it underscored the importance of preserving and developing a united Jerusalem that was Israel’s sovereign capital. PA activities in the city will be thwarted, it promised.

Israel applied sovereignty to east Jerusalem immediately after capturing it from Jordan during the 1967 war and cemented that move with a Knesset declaration in 1980. The international community and the Palestinians hold that east Jerusalem should be the future capital of a Palestinian state.

The issue of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights was underscored, in the government’s priority list, with an explanation provided that it was a “strategic region” with a large potential for development. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and annexed it in 1981. The US recognized that sovereignty in 2019, but no other country has followed suit.

With an eye toward the region, the government in its policy guidelines promised to “promote peace with all our neighbors while preserving Israel’s security, historical and national interests.” It also pledged to combat Iran’s nuclear program.

Within its coalition agreements with the RZP, the government promised to expand cooperation with the Arab countries with which it normalized ties in 2020, under the auspices of the US-brokered Abraham Accords.

It will also “work to promote additional peace agreements in order to end the Israeli-Arab conflict.”

Separately, the government pledged to promote a visa exemption agreement with the US.

The RZP agreement also called for a government decree to authorize the West Bank outposts, known on the Right as “the young settlements,” within 60 days. This will allow what could be as many as 70 fledgling communities to be hooked up to utilities and to receive government funding when relevant for infrastructure and public institutions.

Changes will be made to the 2005 Disengagement Law, which allowed the government to destroy four northern Samaria communities and to declare them closed military zones. The Samaria Regional Council has long sought to rescind this declaration with an eye on rebuilding the communities.

The only detail of the changes spelled out in the RZP coalition agreement was a pledge to authorize the modular yeshiva at the site of the former Homesh settlement. There was also a promise that the government would uphold an agreement made to the Samaria Regional Council and the Nahala Movement in 2021, by which a settlement and a yeshiva could be built on the Evyatar hilltop.

Hebron’s small Jewish community of some 1,000 was given a nod with a promise to work on its behalf.

A military edict will be changed to allow Jews who held property in the West Bank prior to 1948 to lay claim to what had been until now considered abandoned property even in cases where ownership was known.

The agreement also detailed additional steps that would be taken to further develop settlements, infrastructure and road work as well as to preserve open spaces in Area C.

All of this is alongside one of the more sweeping changes, which is to transfer the IDF’s Civil Administration from the defense minister’s purview to that of Bezalel Smotrich, incoming finance minister and RZP head. In conjunction with his ministerial role, Smotrich will also serve as a minister in the Defense Ministry. The role will allow him to have direct oversight of the decision-making body for civilian affairs in Area C, where all the settlements are located and where 300,000 Palestinians live.

Under his guidance, work will begin on the transfer of civilian issues from the Civil Administration to relevant government ministries, a move that could be viewed as akin to de facto annexation.

Also on Wednesday, outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz spoke with the PA’s Abbas.

Gantz emphasized the importance of open communication and security collaboration and goals between the two security apparatuses, and also warned that going up against Israel in the international arena, particularly at the UN, only harms Palestinians and makes an already-challenging situation worse. •