Recently, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, and Settlements Minister Orit Struck have been promoting a decision to transfer 700 million NIS to settlements in the West Bank. A portion of this budget will be used, among other things, “to support settlement in northern Samaria.” As reported by Kan News, pertaining to this decision, the Interior Ministry will approve the redirection of funds to “unregulated places” in the West Bank.
Silently, without any official announcement, a monumental decision of historical reproach is taking shape in the vast expanse of Israel between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. For 56 years, while numerous de facto annexation actions took place, there was a slight semblance of adherence to the general norms of international law regarding the Territories. However, the Netanyahu/Smotrich/Ben-Gvir administration is now sneeringly tearing away this delicate veneer, formalizing through governmental resolutions the de jure annexation of the West Bank
This is the true and unmitigated significance of the move to expropriate most of the powers of administration of the West Bank from the hands of the military commander in the territory, the head of Central Command, and to transfer them to Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, in his capacity as the additional minister in the Defense Ministry responsible for coordinating government operations in the West Bank and the Civil Administration. Among other things, as stipulated in the coalition agreements and ratified in the government very recently, Smotrich, chairman of the Religious Zionist Party, is directly entrusted with the powers of planning, development, and construction for settlers.
One might think of the saying “the cat guarding the cream,” but real-world dynamics aren’t captured by such clichés. Smotrich has essentially been appointed in an unparalleled manner as the “civilian” governor of the West Bank. He oversees both settler and Palestinian construction. Good luck to those under his supervision.
Contrasting with international law
This sharply contrasts with international law and the precedents set by the High Court over many decades. These standards dictate that the administrative powers of an occupied territory should rest solely with the military commander of that region. Shifting these powers to civilian – and notably nationalist – hands is far more than just an administrative adjustment. It signifies a definitive move toward de jure annexation.
And, naturally, there are other instances showcasing the Messianic government’s resolute drive to set tangible realities in place, all while openly defying the international community’s stance with audacity. For example, the Law on the Abolition of Disengagement in Northern Samaria and legalizing the Homesh outpost. In the new-old settlement, which emerged in the wake of Israel’s old commitments to the US around the disengagement plan and also newly reported commitments, all pretenses have been shed: If the defiant celebrations of settlers, who proudly announce each new establishment they create in the West Bank, aren’t enough, Netanyahu himself clarified this in an interview with Sky News. He stated that this is not a breach of international obligations and argued against the notion that our land, which has “been ours for 3,000 years, should be “devoid of Jews
Another natural complementary move to the transfer of powers is the government’s intention to comprehensively enforce Israeli law in the West Bank, executed through the directives of the IDF. To clarify any ambiguities, there would be a “civil” law for Jews and a separate, military law for Palestinians. This notable change takes place against the backdrop of a governmental shift, a pivotal aspect of which is the significant reduction in the High Court’s authority to conduct judicial reviews of governmental and administrative decisions on the basis of improbability.
The immediate victims, not coincidentally, are primarily the Palestinians in the West Bank. They will experience a further reduction in their already limited capacity to seek legal aid in numerous instances, especially in cases involving violations of basic rights, such as the right to shelter or the freedom of movement for medical reasons.
The entire scenario presents a stark and unmistakable image. A special report recently published from the Zulat Institute by adviser Tamar Feldman, dealing with the implications of the current government’s aims to expand its authority in the West Bank by pushing for annexation and leveraging the regime’s shift, asserts that the government’s aim is to minimize responsibilities towards long-standing Palestinian residents. This is what’s termed as apartheid.
The writer is a former MK on behalf of Meretz.