Israel's defense minister signed a contract on Thursday with Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich – who had been appointed a ministerial position within the Defense Ministry – granting him home authority over civilian affairs in Area C, a section of the Judea and Samaria, known as the West Bank, which is home to hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers.
The Times of Israel reported that Defense Minister Yoav Gallant granted Smotrich with, among other powers, “full authority over land purchases, land surveys and the registration of land. Smotrich will “have full authority over land purchases, land surveys and the registration of land as state land in Area C,” as well as “authority over the planning and construction bureaucracy in the West Bank.”
Smotrich’s new powers will also include “the ability to authorize outposts as neighborhoods of new settlements,” according to The Jerusalem Post.
High-ranking legal officials within the Israeli defense establishment reportedly warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that transferring civilian powers in Judea and Samaria to Smotrich could be interpreted as de facto annexation and undermine Israel’s standing in the world.
Conflict also developed within the government in recent months over how it should handle issues surrounding Israeli settlements, particularly the dismantling of illegal outposts.
A small illegal settlement outpost in Samaria called Or Haim – in the northern West Bank – was dismantled twice in January by Gallant's order, overriding Smotrich. Following the second evacuation, Smotrich and his far-right Religious Zionism party boycotted the following weekly Cabinet meeting in protest.
Though Smotrich and Gallant have been at odds over the division of powers in the Defense Ministry, Thursday’s agreement brings the issue to resolution. Under the agreement, with Gallant still in charge of security matters in the West Bank.
After the agreement was finalized, Smotrich expressed his satisfaction with his new role, as well as the ongoing efforts of the Israeli government to solidify Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria.
“Citizens of Judea and Samaria will receive equal treatment and equal citizenship. I thank Minister Gallant for the agreements and I am confident that we will know how to work optimally for the citizens of Israel. We have a long road ahead of us, but this is a holiday for the residents of Judea and Samaria and a holiday for the State of Israel," Smotrich said.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.