The finance minister was given broad powers to speed up construction, bypassing 27 years of measures in place.
Israel’s hardline coalition government has approved plans to build thousands of new homes in the occupied West Bank and gave the far-right finance minister broad powers to speed up illegal settlement construction, bypassing measures that have been in place for 27 years.
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan in West Jerusalem said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet approved the move on Sunday to allow pro-settler Finance Minister Bezalel Motrich to bypass construction The six-stage process for settlements, which is considered illegal under international law.
Khan said the deal between Netanyahu and Smotridge had been going on for some time, adding that it allowed the finance minister to “effectively take over the entire illegal settlement building process.”
“We will continue to develop the settlement program and strengthen Israel’s control over the territory,” Smotridge said.
Israel’s top planning council is due to meet next week and its agenda includes approval of plans to build 4,560 housing units in various West Bank districts.
“It’s very shocking for the Palestinians,” Khan said. All parties have expressed deep concern that the entire West Bank could soon fall under Israeli control.
The Palestinian foreign ministry said the approval of settlement activity was a “dangerous escalation to complete the annexation of the West Bank”.
Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, said it would only increase tensions in the region, while Fatah warned that “settlers will be driven out of the West Bank just as they were driven out of the Gaza Strip”. .
The Palestinian Authority said it would boycott a joint economic council meeting with Israel scheduled for Monday.
Israel’s hard-line government – including ultra-Orthodox parties and far-right ultra-nationalist religious factions – has made settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank a top priority.
Netanyahu’s Likud pledges to ‘advance and develop settlements in Israeli land – Galilee, Negev, Golan Heights, Judea and Samaria’ – Occupied West Bank biblical name.
The new push has brought Israel into conflict with its closest allies, including the United States, which opposes settlement building in the occupied territories.
Khan said Smotridge “now has the final and first say in what settlements can be built.”
Earlier, illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank were under Israeli military control. The construction process took place in six phases and was overseen by the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territory (COGAT), the Israeli military’s civilian body that administers the West Bank. The international community and even the Israelis can raise dissent at any stage.
“The Americans raised some objections that prevented the expansion of the settlements. All of that is now taken away,” Khan said, adding that “This will be of great concern to the international community.”
Given that much of Smotrich’s support comes from people living in the settlement, “it’s unlikely that he would reject any kind of expansion,” Khan said.
Since taking office in January, Netanyahu’s coalition has approved 7,000 new homes, many in the occupied West Bank. The government also amended a law to clear the way for settlers to return to four previously evacuated settlements.
Nearly 750,000 Israelis live in 250 illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, built on land Israel captured during the 1967 Six-Day War.