Netanyahu’s government makes West Bank settlement expansion its priority | Israel

The incoming hawkish government of Benjamin Netanyahu put settlement expansion in the West Bank at the top of its priority list on Wednesday, vowing to legalize dozens of illegally built outposts and annex the occupied territory as part of their coalition deal. with their ultranational allies.

The coalition agreements, released a day before the government took office, also included language endorsing discrimination against LGBTQ+ people on religious grounds, as well as generous stipends for ultra-Orthodox men who prefer to study over work.

The package set the stage for what is expected to be a rocky start for Netanyahu’s government and could put him at odds with much of the Israeli public and Israel’s closest allies abroad.

His long list of guidelines was topped by a commitment to “advance and develop settlements in all parts of the land of Israel,” including “Judea and Samaria,” the Biblical names for the West Bank.

Israel captured the West Bank in 1967 along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. The Palestinians seek the West Bank as the heart of a future independent state. In the decades since, Israel has built dozens of Jewish settlements there that are now home to some 500,000 Israelis living alongside some 2.5 million Palestinians.

Israeli settlements in the West Bank are considered by most of the international community to be illegal and an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians. The United States has warned the incoming government against taking steps that could undermine dwindling hopes of establishing an independent Palestinian state.

Netanyahu’s new government – the most religious and hardline in Israel’s history – is made up of ultra-Orthodox parties, a far-right ultranationalist religious faction affiliated with the West Bank settler movement and its Likud party. He will be sworn in on Thursday.

many of Netanyahu’s main alliesincluding most of the Religious Zionism party, are ultranationalist settlers from the West Bank.

In the coalition agreement between Likud and Religious Zionism, Netanyahu pledges to legalize wild settlements considered illegal even by the Israeli government. He also vows to annex the West Bank “while choosing the moment and considering the national and international interests of the state of Israel.”

Such a move would alienate much of the world and provide new fuel for critics who compare Israel’s policies in the West Bank to apartheid in South Africa.

The agreement also grants favors to Itamar Ben-Gvir, a far-right politician who will be in charge of the national police as the newly created minister of national security.

It includes a commitment to vastly expand and increase government funding for Israeli settlements in the divided West Bank city of Hebron, where Ben-Gvir lives among a small settler community amid tens of thousands of Palestinians.

That agreement also includes a clause that promises to change the country’s anti-discrimination laws to allow companies to refuse service to people “because of religious belief.” The legislation sparked outrage earlier this week. and concerns about the impact on LGBTQ+ rights. Netanyahu has said that he will not allow the law to pass, but nonetheless left the clause in the coalition agreement.

Among his other changes is placing Bezalel Smotrich, a settler leader who heads the Religious Zionism party, in a newly created ministerial post overseeing settlement policy in the West Bank.

Netanyahu returns to power after He was removed from his post last year. after serving as prime minister from 2009 to 2021. He will take office while on trial for allegedly taking bribes, breach of trust and fraud, charges he denies.

His partners are seeking sweeping political reforms that could alienate large sections of the Israeli public, increase tensions with the Palestinians and put the country on a collision course with the US and American Jews.

The Biden administration has said it strongly opposes settlement expansion and has chastised the Israeli government for it in the past.

Earlier on Wednesday, Israel’s figurehead president expressed his “deep concern” about the incoming government and its positions on LGBTQ+ rights, racism and the country’s Arab minority in a rare meeting with Ben-Gvir, one of the members more radical in the coalition.

The government platform also mentioned that loosely defined rules governing holy sites, including the Jerusalem flashpoint sanctuary known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the al-Aqsa Mosque complex, would remain in place. the same.

Ben-Gvir and other religious Zionist politicians had called for the “status quo” to be changed to allow Jewish prayer at the site, a move that risked inflaming tensions with the Palestinians. The state of the siege is the emotional center of the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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