Netanyahu’s government: West Bank settlements top priority

Jerusalem – Benjamin Netanyahu’s incoming hardline government put West Bank settlement expansion at the top of its list of priorities on Wednesday, just a day before being sworn in.

Netanyahu’s Likud party has released policy guidelines for the new government, the first of which is to “advance and develop settlements in all parts of the land of Israel – in the Galilee, the Negev, the Golan Heights , Judea, and Samaria” – biblical names for the West Bank.

The pledge could bring the new government into conflict with its closest allies, including the United States, which opposes settlements in the occupied territories.

Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. The Palestinians seek the West Bank as the heartland of a future independent state. In the decades since, Israel has built dozens of Jewish settlements there, now home to about half a million Israelis and about 2.5 million Palestinians.

Most of the international community considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal and an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu’s new government — the most devout and hardline in Israel’s history — is made up of ultra-Orthodox parties, ultra-nationalist religious factions and his Likud party. It will be sworn in on Thursday.

Several of Netanyahu’s key allies, including most members of the religious Zionist party, are ultranationalist West Bank settlers.

On Wednesday, incoming Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that the West Bank would not “change its political or legal status,” a departure from years of advocacy for annexing the entire territory.

He criticized the “irresponsible military junta” that ran civil affairs for Israeli settlers, including himself. Smotrich will take over the military junta in the occupied West Bank in his second role – a newly created post of defense minister.

Netanyahu returned to power after being ousted last year after serving as prime minister from 2009 to 2021. He will serve while on trial for alleged bribery, breach of trust and fraud, charges he denies.

Netanyahu’s partners are pursuing broad policy reforms that could alienate large swaths of the Israeli public, heighten tensions with the Palestinians and bring the country into conflict with the United States and American Jews.

The Biden administration has expressed strong opposition to settlement expansion and has blamed the Israeli government for it in the past.

During a rare meeting with Itamar Ben-Gvir, one of the coalition’s most radical members, earlier Wednesday, Israel’s figurehead president spoke out against the incoming government and its focus on LGBTQ rights, racism. and its position on the country’s Arab minority.

President Isaac Herzog met with Ben Gevill, the leader of the Jewish power faction and heir to outlawed politician Meir Kahan, after members of his party called for an end to discrimination against LGBTQ people based on religious beliefs legalization.

Herzog’s office said the president urged Ben-Gavier to “calm the storm, heed and absorb the criticism” about the incoming administration’s stance on LGBTQ issues, Palestinian citizens in Israel and lifting the ban on politicians supporting racism. position on the ban. and terrorism in the Knesset.

The government platform also mentioned that loosely defined rules governing holy sites, including the Flashpoint shrine in Jerusalem, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, will remain in place.

Ben-Gvir and other religious Zionist politicians have called for a change to the “status quo” to allow Jews to pray at the site, a move that threatens to heighten tensions with the Palestinians. The site’s status as the emotional center of the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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