West Bank settlements a top priority for incoming Israeli government

Jewish people have 'exclusive right' to land and government will encourage more settlements, says Likud party

The house of a Palestinian family between Israeli army barriers at the centre of the Jewish settlement of Givon Hahadasha, which borders the West Bank Palestinian village of Beit Ijza. AFP
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Israel's incoming government will give priority to expanding illegal settlements and outposts in the occupied West Bank, according to policy documents released by the leading Likud party on Wednesday.

Veteran leader and prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu is set to usher in Israel's most right-wing government in its history after finalising coalition deals with the ultra-Orthodox and far-right parties that secured his return to power last month.

"The Jewish people have an exclusive and inalienable right to all parts of the Land of Israel," a statement of policy priorities released by Likud said.

"The government will encourage and develop settlement in all parts of the land of Israel — in the Galilee, the Negev, the Golan, in Judea and Samaria," it added, using the biblical names for the West Bank.

The incoming government has sparked fears of a military escalation in the West Bank amid the worst violence in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory since the Second Intifada.

At least 150 Palestinians and 26 Israelis have been killed this year across Israel, the occupied West Bank and Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem.

Most Palestinians have been killed in almost daily army raids into the West Bank, where Israel says it is aiming for militant groups responsible for attacks in Israel, but many children and bystanders have also died.

Another 49 Palestinians died during three days of fighting between Gaza Strip militants and Israel in August.

Israel has occupied the West Bank since the Arab-Israeli war in 1967. An estimated 475,000 Jewish settlers now live in the territory, alongside about 2.9 million Palestinians.

Mr Netanyahu greatly expanded Israeli settlements, illegal under international law, during his previous terms in office.

In November, he was reported to have accepted a demand from incoming public security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who lives in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, to legalise unrecognised Israeli outposts in the occupied territories within 60 days of the new government being sworn in.

The document also said Israel will maintain the “status quo” at Jerusalem’s holy sites, which forbids Jews from praying at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound under an agreement with Jordan.

But incoming government representatives including Mr Ben-Gvir often visit the compound, stirring anger among Palestinians.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II said he was concerned about the situation and was prepared for conflict should Israel try to change the status of holy sites in occupied East Jerusalem.

“If people want to get into a conflict with us, we’re quite prepared,” King Abdullah told CNN.

“I always like to believe that, let’s look at the glass half full, but we have certain red lines. If people want to push those red lines, then we will deal with that.”

The US has also voiced concern over the incoming cabinet, with Israeli media reporting the Biden administration has considered a “no-contact” policy with Mr Ben-Gvir because of his far-right views.

It has repeatedly called for a decrease in violence in recent months as the Palestinian death toll continued to rise.

A Palestinian protester prepares to sling a stone during clashes with Israeli soldiers in Kafr Qaddum village, near the West Bank city of Nablus. The clashes followed a protest against Israeli settlements in the area.   EPA

Wednesday's statement also referred to demands by Mr Netanyahu's far-right allies to give security forces greater leeway in use of force in the occupied West Bank.

"The government will strive to strengthen security forces and support fighters and police to combat and defeat terrorism," the statement said.

Also on Wednesday, the Knesset passed legislation expanding the powers Mr Ben-Gvir will wield as public security minister — a demand made by the Otzma Yehudit leader during coalition negotiations.

The ultra-right politician, previously banned from the Knesset for inciting racism, will now be able to direct police action and influence investigation policy, the Times of Israel reported.

It also came as Mr Netanyahu revealed the appointment of former general Yoav Galant as Defence Minister.

Mr Galant, a member of Likud and a close Netanyahu ally, was given the key portfolio a day before the Cabinet is expected to be sworn in before parliament.

A former commander of the southern region of Israel, he has also served in several ministerial posts in Mr Netanyahu's previous cabinets.

Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the extreme-right formation Religious Zionism, is to be the minister with control over civil affairs in the West Bank — a responsibility usually falling to the defence minister.

Updated: December 28, 2022, 9:19 PM
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