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More Palestinian refugees likely as far-right minister seizes control in West Bank

More Palestinian refugees likely as far-right minister seizes control in West Bank

In a bid to strengthen its grip on the West Bank and pave the way for more settlements that will likely displace more Palestinians from their homes, ultimately making them refugees in their own land, the Israeli military, which has controlled the area so far, has quietly transferred substantial legal powers to pro-settler civil servants working under far-right minister Bezalel Smotrich.

The order, posted by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on 29 May, shifts the responsibility for numerous bylaws at the Civil Administration—the Israeli body governing the West Bank—from the military to officials led by Smotrich at the defence ministry, The Guardian reported.

This transfer is part of a broader strategy by Smotrich and his allies to extend Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank, with the ultimate goal of achieving direct control by the central government and its ministries. The change reduces the likelihood of legal checks on settlement expansion and development, paving the way for more aggressive settlement policies.

With key positions in the defence ministry now occupied by individuals previously affiliated with the pro-settler NGO Regavim, the policy direction is clear: advancing the dispossession of Palestinians in Area C and solidifying Israeli control over the West Bank.

Smotrich, who holds dual roles as finance minister and a minister in the defence ministry, has long viewed control of the Civil Administration as a crucial step toward annexation. The Civil Administration oversees planning and construction in Area C of the West Bank, which constitutes 60% of the Occupied Palestinian Territories and is under full Israeli administrative and security control. It also enforces regulations against unauthorized construction by both Israeli settlers and Palestinians.

The transferred laws encompass a wide range of areas, including building regulations, agriculture, forestry, parks, and bathing locations. Legal experts have warned that shifting these powers from military to political control could conflict with Israel’s obligations under international law.

Since assuming his ministerial roles, Smotrich has approved thousands of new settlement homes, legalized previously unauthorized outposts, and introduced measures making it more difficult for Palestinians to build homes and move around.

This development has gone largely unremarked within Israel but has not escaped international attention. Reports suggest that U.S. officials have privately considered imposing sanctions on Smotrich due to his destabilizing impact on the West Bank. The far-right minister lives in a settlement deemed illegal under international law, further complicating the situation.

Smotrich’s ascent within the defence ministry has been bolstered by the support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has become increasingly reliant on the far-right elements of his coalition government. This reliance has grown since the moderate former defence minister, Benny Gantz, left Israel’s emergency war cabinet amid disagreements over strategy in the Gaza conflict and the handling of Israeli hostages held by Hamas.

Downplaying the significance of these changes as merely technical, Smotrich has appointed long-term ideological ally Hillel Roth as his deputy in the Civil Administration. Roth, formerly a resident of Yitzhar, a West Bank settlement known for violence and extremism, has taken on the responsibility for enforcing building regulations in settlements and outposts. His previous work with Bnei Akiva, an NGO linked to Smotrich’s Religious Zionist party, underscores the ideological alignment within the ministry.

The legal and political implications of this transfer are profound. The head of the Civil Administration remains an officer subordinate to the military command, but Roth, as a civilian, answers directly to Smotrich. This shift effectively places significant administrative power in the West Bank in the hands of an apparatus led by an Israeli minister committed to advancing the interests of Israeli settlers.

Observers and analysts have noted that this move marks a shift from "creeping annexation" to actual annexation. It represents the legalization and normalization of a long-term policy aimed at reconfiguring the occupation by transferring substantial authority from the military to pro-settler political actors.

This significant policy shift is likely to have far-reaching consequences, both within the region and in Israel's international relations, as it continues to challenge the established frameworks of governance and legal oversight in the West Bank.

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TAGS:Bezalel SmotrichIsrael Palestine ConflictIsrael War on GazaIsraeli Occupation in West Bank
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