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Israel: Netanyahu warned about repercussions of transferring West Bank authority to Smotrich

January 26, 2023 at 12:25 pm

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (R) attend a press conference at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem on January 25, 2023. [Photo by RONEN ZVULUN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images]

Senior legal experts in the Israeli security services warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday against transferring authority for the Unit for the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) to far-right extremist Bezalel Smotrich, who is a minister in the Ministry of Security as well as Minister of Finance. Netanyahu gave such powers to Smotrich, despite the opposition of the Minister of Security, Yoav Gallant.

According to public broadcaster Kan 11, Netanyahu’s decision was made after a fiery discussion at a meeting attended by Gallant, Smotrich, Justice Minister Yariv Levin and other officials. Haaretz said that the chief military prosecutor, General Tomer Yerushalmi, and legal advisor Itai Ofir told the meeting in Netanyahu’s office that international bodies, including the International Court of Justice in The Hague, may look at the transfer of powers to someone like Smotrich who lives near an illegal settlement as the de facto annexation of the occupied West Bank by Israel.

The report pointed out the meeting was held due to the controversy over the evacuation of the illegal Or Haim settlement outpost, which Jewish settlers built on land belonging to the village of Juresh, south-east of Nablus in the occupied West Bank. The outpost was established on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the death of the spiritual leader of the religious Zionist movement in Israel, Rabbi Haim Drukman, with the aim of cutting off the geographical contiguity of the occupied Palestinian territories.

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According to Haaretz, the aim of the meeting was to resolve differences of opinion regarding the distribution of powers in the West Bank. The newspaper noted that it ended without reaching an agreement because Smotrich rejected most of the proposals submitted to him on the grounds that he was promised authority over the civil administration in the West Bank as part of the coalition agreements that led to the formation of the current Netanyahu-led Israeli government.

Gallant presented his position at the meeting, according to which civil activity cannot be separated from military activity in the West Bank. Haaretz noted that the Israeli army officers stressed, in front of Gallant, the need to limit Smotrich’s powers. It also added that senior officials told the minister of national security that in the event that a situation arises in which Smotrich makes a decision that may have security implications, Gallant has the final word.

The Israeli security services are apparently calling for preventing the transfer of powers to Smotrich in everything related to the occupation checkpoints and the approval of work permits for the Palestinians, as they are both a clear security issue. He should not, they added, have control over the appointment of officials within COGAT.

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