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Religious Zionism party’s Bezalel Smotrich given broad powers over West Bank territories

Israel’s current DM Gantz claims the agreement would turn new defense minister into “a second-class defense minister”

Religious Zionism party head MK Bezalel Smotrich seen after coalition talks at a hotel in Jerusalem, Nov. 30, 2022. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

As part of a coalition agreement between Israel’s Religious Zionism party and Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, Religious Zionism will receive a newly-created defense ministry position overseeing “Jewish settlement and open lands.” 

Religious Zionism party chairman Bezalel Smotrich is believed to be the person to fill that role. 

This minister will have authority to appoint the leaders of COGAT – the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories – and of the Israeli Civil Administration. Both organizations are military units tasked with implementing Israeli government policies in the Judea-Samaria region. The agreement establishing the position states that appointments made by this minister will be “in coordination and agreement” with the prime minister. 

Prior to this position, the Israeli Defense Forces made appointments to lead these bodies, with the approval of Israel’s defense minister. 

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi reacted to the announcement by stating that he would not allow Smotrich to nominate military generals to the two positions. 

“I won’t allow any interference in the appointment of IDF generals. There is no possibility of this happening,” Israel’s Channel 13 news reported Kochavi saying, noting that the agreement would “break the chain of command.” 

Israel’s current Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the agreement would turn the Israel’s defense minister into “a second-class defense minister.” He stated that Israel’s next defense minister would “become the contractor for the dismantling of the security apparatus and the IDF.” 

In an earlier agreement with the Otzma Yehudit [“Jewish Power”] party, Netanyahu gave party chairman Itamar Ben Gvir control over Israel’s Border Police. 

Gantz also reacted to that appointment by claiming Netanyahu was giving Ben Gvir “a private army” for carrying out his own interests in Judea and Samaria, and warning that it would cause “security chaos.” 

The outgoing coalition has criticized Netanyahu’s ties to both Smotrich and Ben Gvir, claiming that these lawmakers represent racist positions. In recent statements, Ben Gvir openly called for increased use of lethal force against Palestinians and deportation of Arab Israelis who attack soldiers or are deemed disloyal to the Jewish state.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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