Israel’s ‘mega-dramatic’ changes to control of Judea and Samaria will prevent Palestinian state

The creation of a new Settlements Administration in the Defense Ministry is a “mega-dramatic” change that will prevent a Palestinian state.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich revealed a “mega-dramatic” change imposing civilian control over most land issues in Judea and Samaria that will lead to more settlement expansion and will prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.

In the June 9 meeting with Religious Zionist Party faction members, he described his creation of “a separate civilian system” called the Settlements Administration, within the Civil Administration (CA) in the Defense Ministry.

“We came to settle the land, to build it, and to prevent its division and the establishment of a Palestinian state, God forbid. And the way to prevent this is to develop the settlements,” Smotrich said to his supporters.

The Civil Administration is the IDF body that deals with civilian affairs, both Jewish and Arab, in Area C of Judea and Samaria, where Israel has complete civilian and military control.

Its most controversial activities relate to the destruction of nascent Jewish villages and the concurrent blind eye turned to most illegal Palestinian construction, which number in the tens of thousands of structures, according to watchdog NGO Regavim.

The finance minister had received in coalition negotiations early in 2023 the general authority as a minister in the Defense Ministry over planning and construction in settlements, land allocation and tearing down illegal buildings in the Area C.

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He touted this as the way to increase Jewish settlement while preventing the encroachment of Palestinian construction that equaled an unlawful land grab to expand the perimeters of a future Palestinian state.

He had appointed Yehuda Eliahu as head of what he named the Settlements Administration, who had established Regavim together with Smotrich in 2006 to use legal means to protect Israel’s national lands and resources.

In his speech, Smotrich described Eliahu’s authority as the “equivalent to a director general of a government ministry.”

The latest move to empower Eliahu came on May 29, when Civil Administration head Brig. Gen. Hisham Ibrahim created the civilian post of deputy head to the CA, who is subordinate to Eliahu rather than to the CA or the general in charge of Central Command, whose jurisdiction includes Judea and Samaria.

This is the first time the CA has a civilian in a position of control rather than army personnel.

The deputy head is Hillel Roth, a confidante of Smotrich who has been a top member of Honenu, an organization that provides lawyers to represent in court Jews accused of nationalist crimes, often proving that they acted in self-defense.

By Ibrahim’s order, Roth’s authority will extend over many, although not all, land issues. City and village planning and construction, real estate deals, government property, certain land registration procedures, and land and water arrangements are some of the issues under his purview, as well as tourism issues, national parks and others.

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Smotrich noted to his audience that since the Settlements Administration is still under the aegis of the Defense Ministry, “It will be easier to swallow in the international and legal context. So that they won’t say that we are doing annexation here.”

He also said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “with us full on.”

The Prime Minister’s Office released a statement following the speech that simply saying that the long-running government policy regarding Judea and Samaria “has not changed.”

“The final status of these territories will be determined by the parties in direct negotiations,” it said.

Israeli cofounder of the far-left Breaking the Silence group, Yehuda Shaul, jumped to attack the changes Smotrich had boasted about.

Posting to X on Friday a copy of the list of the powers handed to the new nationalist administration within the Defense Ministry, he wrote, “This is a step of de jure annexation of the WB [West Bank], yet the world is silent.”