Smotrich to gov’t ministries: Prepare to double number of Jews in Judea and Samaria

The finance minister assured in closed discussions that funding would be made available even though it is not included in the current budget.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has begun intensive talks with various government ministries with the aim of doubling the number Jews in Judea and Samaria, Haaretz reported Sunday.

The head of the Religious Zionism party has drawn up a comprehensive proposal that would be presented to the government in the coming months, according to the paper.

In closed talks with ministry staffers and officials from the Defense Ministry, in which he serves as a minister in charge of Judea and Samaria affairs, Smotrich outlined the ideas included in his plan.

The proposal calls not only a rapid increase in the amount of housing available in Judea and Samaria, but also all the necessary infrastructure expansion needed to support another 500,000 residents in the region, including roads, public transportation, employment opportunities, and educational facilities. The sources said that Smotrich demanded that the plan should be implemented within the next two years.

According to one source, when Smotrich was asked where the money would come from to pay for the proposal, considering that its price tag would be in the hundreds of millions of shekels, none of which is included in the two-year budget that will be presented to the Knesset by the end of the month, the minister brushed aside the issue, saying that funding would not be a problem.

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Citing sources involved in the talks, the Hebrew daily said that among Smotrich’s key demands is the building of proper infrastructure for all existing Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria to further this goal, whether their legal status has been finalized or not.

He specifically referred to the dozens of small towns known as “young settlements,” even though many of the them have existed for decades, which have suffered from constant water and electricity shortages as well as security dangers due to their standing, a situation that even led to a hunger strike protest by several regional council heads.

The sources noted that Smotrich said these villages would be legalized in the coming months, without giving further details. Very few have received retroactive recognition in all the years that right-wing governments ruled in Israel. Nine were authorized in one fell swoop in February as a response to a spate of Palestinian terror attacks in Jerusalem, and the move was roundly criticized by Israeli foes and friends alike, including the United States.

The upcoming legalization of Homesh, one of four Israeli towns in northern Samaria forcibly evacuated by the Sharon government as part of the 2005 Disengagement, is also getting flack from the Biden administration.

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The Haaretz article also said that the security authorities “are expected to express opposition to a large part” of the plan. It also noted that “it is expected” that any attempt to implement its proposals would be reviewed by the High Court of Justice, “and it is doubtful whether the judiciary will authorize it in its original form.”