Significant control over the construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank approved by Israel’s incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has to be handed to far-right leader Betzalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism party.
Netanyahu’s approval for housing construction will only be required at an initial stage of the planning process.
Under the coalition agreement struck between Netanyahu’s Likud and Religious Zionism, the prime minister-designate’s approval will only be required at an initial stage of the planning process, when the government decides on the scope and the location of projects to be registered with the Planning Subcommittee of the Civil Administration, the Defense Ministry body that authorizes construction in settlements.
Currently, the prime minister’s approval is needed at every stage of the process, which requires at least four civil administration clearances before work can begin.
The need to secure the prime minister’s approval of handing control of construction to Smotrich at every stage has allowed previous governments to freeze or shelve construction projects that are controversial or expose Israel to significant international backlash. With Netanyahu’s approval now only required at the early stage of planning – as well as at the late stage for some projects in major West Bank communities – de facto control of the process will pass to Smotrich.
As part of the coalition agreement with Religious Zionism, Netanyahu agreed to hand over authority over the two key bodies that manage Israeli control in the West Bank – the Coordinator of Activities in the Territories (COGAT) and the Civil Administration – to Smotrich or another member of his party who will occupy the post of second minister within the Defense Ministry, with powers separate from those of the defense minister. Smotrich, who is expected to become finance minister, is tipped to hold the post as well.
A resident of Kedumim, Smotrich has long advocated massive settlement expansion and the annexation of large West Bank blocs without granting equal rights to Palestinians in those areas. He also called for the dismantling of the Civil Administration, saying that settlers in the West Bank should be governed by civilian bodies, just like civilians in Israel proper.