Middle East Monitor / February 18, 2023
Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir have demanded that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately hand over authority over the occupied West Bank to whom it was promised, Israeli media reported on Friday.
According to Israeli media, this issue has caused tension within the coalition, escalated by the demolition of an olive grove north of the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah on Wednesday.
Smotrich, head of the Religious Zionist Party, and Ben-Gvir, head of Otzma Yehudit, called for Netanyahu to respect the coalition agreements, The Jerusalem Post reported.
Haaretz reported that the evacuation of the olive grove: “Escalated within minutes into an internal government battle royal over policy and authority.”
The famous Israeli newspaper stated that this “reflects the shaky status of the new coalition,” also citing the issue of the judicial overhaul.
Smotrich tweeted: “The uprooting of the grove in the Shiloh Valley [north of Ramallah] is an injustice that cries to the heavens and could and should have been prevented… We demanded and received in the coalition agreements the responsibility over the Civil Administration and the civil life in Judea and Samaria (West Bank) precisely in order to end this discriminatory maltreatment of settlers.”
Meanwhile, The Times of Israel reported: “The power transfer of the sensitive Defence Ministry body responsible for authorizing settlement construction and demolition of illegal Israeli and Palestinian building in the IDF-controlled Area C of the West Bank has yet to take place – amid significant pushback from both the security establishment and the Biden administration.”
It also reported critics arguing that: “Handing control of a West Bank authority to a civilian office headed by the finance minister would amount to de facto annexation.”
Smotrich, according to The Jerusalem Post, stressed: “If (Yoav) Gallant has a problem with that [handing over power to him], he is welcome to quit. I am convinced many in Likud would be happy to take his place in the Defense Ministry.”
On this issue, opposition leader Yair Lapid tweeted: “Have you noticed that there are two ministers in the Defense Ministry, one for and one against? This is not a government; it is a preschool without a preschool teacher.”
Former Likud official Gideon Sa’ar also tweeted: “The prime minister reached out to me and asked for my assistance. I told him, ‘Bibi, I would be happy to help you. But I do not know whether to help your right hand or your left.'”