Binyamin Netanyahu’s incoming Israeli government plans to introduce a number of radical changes that, according to critics, amount to de facto annexation of much of the occupied West Bank.
Mr Netanyahu contacted President Yitzhak Herzog late on Wednesday night to inform him that he has succeeded in forming a new government, made up entirely of right-wing and religious parties, 70 days after winning the November 1st election.
As part of understandings reached with the far-right Religious Zionism party, illegal settler outposts scattered across West Bank hilltops will be authorised by the government within 60 days, allowing them to hooked up to Israel’s electricity, water and sewage infrastructure and making funds available for the paving of new roads and security installations.
The agreement is expected to cover at least 70 such outposts where many of the most radical settlers live.
Mr Netanyahu also agreed that the head of the Religious Zionism party, Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s incoming finance minister, will also be appointed an independent minister in the defence ministry in charge of West Bank settlements and Palestinian construction in Israeli-controlled areas.
Control over West Bank settlers, currently under military authority, will be transferred to the relevant government ministries, giving the government for the first time control over territory beyond the country’s sovereign borders.
The far-right parties and many Knesset members from Mr Netanyahu’s own Likud party want Israel to formally annex the entire West Bank – home to more than three million Palestinians and almost half a million settlers – which they claim was granted by god to the Jewish people.
However, Mr Netanyahu is reluctant to annex the territory, fearing a backlash from the international community, including friendly Arab states, which consider all settlements to be illegal under international law.
The new moves are likely to prompt criticism from the US and the European Union.
Tensions are already high with the European Union after 40 Israeli lawmakers sent an open letter to the EU protesting over an official policy document that they say denies historical Jewish ties to the West Bank. The classified EU June 2022 document exposed by Channel 13 News this week detailed efforts by the bloc to expand the Palestinian presence in area C , the area of the West Bank under full Israel control, by means of funding, mapping the territories and providing infrastructure for the Palestinians.
“In the last decade we’ve witnessed the increasing involvement of the European Union in construction, planning road projects and erecting water and solar energy facilities in hundreds of sites in area C,” said Likud Knesset member Amichai Chikli. “The document uncovered this week shows that this is a deliberate strategy that completely ignores Israel’s position and sovereignty in the area.”
EU ambassador to Israel Dimiter Tzantchev reiterated the bloc’s position in support of a two-state solution and concerns over settlements. “We respect the outcome of the democratic process in Israel and we are ready to work with the next government, which we will judge by its deeds,” he said.