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Reneging on Abraham Accords, Netanyahu authorises 'soft annexation' of West Bank

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Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu on September 15, 2020 in Washington, DC [Alex Wong/Getty Images]

Israel's designate Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been accused of breaking his agreement with Arab countries that normalised relation with the Occupation State during the current coalition negotiations. The Likud leader is reported to have agreed to move the civil administration in the West Bank from Israeli Ministry of Defence to the Ministry of Finance to appease far-right member of the Knesset, Bezalel Smotrich.

Religious Zionism will be handed the civil administration portfolio, according to the Haaretz. The Ministry is hugely significant for Palestinians, as it oversees coordination of Israel's activity in the Occupied West Bank. The agreement was reached as part of the ongoing coalition talks between Netanyahu's Likud and Religious Zionism, which stalled once more after the parties failed to reach agreement on several other key issues.

Though details of the talks are yet to be disclosed, Likud is said to have acceded to Religious Zionism's demand for some of the powers of the civil administration, which is under the Defence Ministry. The deal will mean that Smotrich, who is an advocate of Israel's illegal settlement enterprise, will be handed power in approving Palestinian construction plans and settlement construction in Area C. Decisions around illegal outposts, illegal construction and work permits for Palestinians falls under the remit of the administration.

The biggest prize for Religious Zionism, which became the third largest party with 14 Knesset seats, is to seize control over affairs in the Occupied West Bank. Although past Israeli governments showed reluctance to annex the territory completely over concerns around backlash from the international community, Religious Zionism has no such fear.

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Officials in Religious Zionism claimed, Wednesday, that the Party acceded to Netanyahu's requests to forgo the defence portfolio in exchange for the Finance Ministry. The condition for the agreement is that the responsibility for settlements and the civil administration is transferred from the Ministry of Defence to the Ministry of Finance. Under International law, the West Bank is occupied, which means that the military of the occupying power oversees the territory.

Netanyahu has been accused of reneging on his deal with the Arab States by agreeing to the transfer of the civil administration. "Moving the civil administration in the West Bank from Israeli Ministry of Defence to the Ministry of Finance will be a 'soft annexation' of the WB & violation of the commitment Netanyahu gave the US & UAE to suspend his annexation plan," said Israeli journalist, Barak Ravid on Twitter. "It could harm the Israel-UAE peace treaty," Ravid added, referring to 2020 normalisation deal.

Referred to as the "Abraham Accords," the UAE hailed the deal as victory for the two-state solution. Abu Dhabi defended its decision to normalise relations with the Occupation State by insisting that it had prevented Israel from annexing the West Bank, a threat which Netanyahu, who was the Prime Minister at the time, had issued.

It is not clear what steps the UAE will take in response. UAE Foreign Minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed (ABZ) raised his concerns over Religious Zionism becoming part of a coalition with Netanyahu, during a recent visit to Israel.

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