Middle East Monitor / February 14, 2023
Israel’s Finance Minister has announced that the far-right government of Benjamin Netanyahu will lift all restrictions on the construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and Palestinian territories, in a move which blatantly defies international law and Washington’s displeasure.
Right-wing extremist Bezalel Smotrich made the announcement at a press conference at the illegal West Bank outpost of Givat Harel. “The real answer to terror [sic] is to continue to build, to continue to set roots in the land of Israel,” he said.
Under the move, the government will approve the construction of almost 10,000 housing units in the West Bank, including 2,000 that have already been built and a further 4,300 units that will be given the green light in May.
“That is what we as a government, as a state, as a nation, must do,” insisted Smotrich. “The settlement enterprise thrives thanks to the pioneers who have sustained it for many years, with great love, with great determination, with great consistency and efficiency.” He added that the coalition government — the most extreme in Israel’s history of extreme governments — has confirmed the approval of ten settlement outposts which were built illegally, even under Israeli law. “My coalition partners understand that this is a logical move.”
Insisting that these moves are just the beginning of the further expansion of the Zionist project and occupation, the minister said he will try to push for more settlement authorization. “We must lift all the restrictions on construction in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank]. This area must function like any other in the State of Israel.” The occupied West Bank, however, is not recognized as an area of the State of Israel; it is occupied territory, and all settlements are illegal under international law, which Israel treats with contempt.
Tel Aviv’s move was condemned by the US yesterday, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken stating somewhat meekly that, “We strongly oppose such unilateral measures, which exacerbate tensions and undermine the prospects for a negotiated two-state solution.” State Department spokesperson Ned Price dismissed it as Israel making “its own sovereign decisions” despite “our very strong opinion” against the move. Both US officials failed to outline any actions that Washington could take against its ally.
Smotrich similarly brushed away the US opposition to the plans. The White House is well aware of Tel Aviv’s policy, he said. “We have joint interests, but we communicate our policy and our own interests to the Americans and the administration knows our commitment to settlements.”
Since Netanyahu was voted in and formed his far-right coalition late last year, Israel has grown bolder in its aim to expand illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It no longer seems to care about maintaining its “democratic” image in the international community.
The new government’s position of Jewish supremacy became clear when Netanyahu stated in December that, “The Jewish people have an exclusive and unquestionable right to all areas of the Land of Israel… The government will promote and develop settlement in all parts of the Land of Israel — in the Galilee, the Negev, the Golan, Judea and Samaria.”
Meanwhile, it remains unlikely that construction will be approved or implemented for Palestinian housing in Area C of the West Bank which the previous government had approved.