Annexation as a Process in the Making: The First Nine Months of the Netanyahu-Smotrich-Ben Gvir Government

The sixth Netanyahu government was formed in late December 2022, and from then until September 2023, Israel experienced one the most tumultuous periods in its history. Beyond domestic matters, Netanyahu’s government intensified Israeli occupation over the West Bank and bolstered settlements in an unprecedented manner. In this chronological overview, we’ll outline the key political decisions and actions taken by Israel during these nine months, highlighting how settlement expansion and the annexation became the central policy of the current Netanyahu-Smotrich-Ben Gvir government.

  • 1) Retroactive approval of 15 Outposts: 10 as new Settlements and 5 as neighborhoods of existing settlements (February 2023) 

During one of the first meetings, the Security Cabinet decided to retroactively authorize 10 outposts as 9 new settlements. Later in the same month, the Settlement subcommittee of the Higher Planning Council in the Civil Administration (in the West Bank) advanced construction plans for additional 5 outposts as new neighborhoods within existing settlements. (See here for a more detailed analysis).

  • 2) Creation of the “Settler Administration” and the transfer of Civil Administration Powers to Smotrich (February 2023) 

An agreement was signed that formalizes the authority of Minister Smotrich over the Civil Administration and shortly after, a new governmental body called the “Settlement Administration” was established to oversee all aspects of settler life within the occupied territories. This body operates under Minister Smotrich’s jurisdiction, essentially serving as the settlements’ governor (in addition to his role as the Minister of Finance). It’s essential to note that this is a civilian government entity and is mandated to act in the best interests of both the State of Israel and its citizens. Accordingly, its establishment and operation in the West Bank effectively amount to an act of de-jure annexation of these territories. (Read our full report for further elaboration).

  • 3) Repeal of the Disengagement Law (March 2023) 

One of the initial laws that the Israeli government passed was an amendment to the Disengagement Law which lifted the ban for Israeli citizens on entering the settlements in the northern part of the West Bank which Israel evacuated from as part of the Disengagement Plan in 2005. Subsequently, the amendment enabled the government to commit to officially establishing the Homesh outpost, built on lands belonging to residents of Burka village. For more details on the repeal of the Disengagement Law, read here.

  • 4) Sovereignty/Apartheid Road (April 2023) 

The Civil Administration announced its intentions to carry out excavation and inspection work in preparation for the construction of a road between Al-Azariya and a-Za’im, near the Ma’ale Adumim settlement. The road, termed the “Sovereignty Road” by protagonists and “Apartheid Road” by critics, aims to divert all Palestinian traffic in the crucial area, and thus restrict Palestinian movement in a large area in the heart of the West Bank which Israel has long sought to annex: the Ma’ale Adumim bloc, including E1. In practice, the road will create a system of separate routes for Israelis and Palestinians (an “apartheid road”). For more details about the sovereignty road, read here.

  • 5) Investment in Sebastiya Archaeological Site (May 2023) 

The Israeli government decided to invest 32 million shekels in the development of an archaeological site located within the Palestinian village of Sebastiya, with part of it falling in Area B and part in Area C. The decision has raised concerns about the development’s impact on the Palestinian population and its potential to encourage settler tourism activities within this Palestinian area. For more information about Sebastiya and the government’s decision, read here.

  • 6) Israel’s State Budget for 2023-2024 (May 2023)

The budget includes billions of shekels for the development of settlements, including and a significant increase in investment in infrastructure and expansion of settlements,. For instance, there’s an allocation of 3.5 billion shekels (roughly 920 million US dollars) over the next two years for roads in the West Bank. This amount represents roughly 25% of Israel’s entire budget for roads. The budget will mainly develop construction of bypass roads for settlers across all areas of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Ministry of Settlements and National Missions, headed by Orit Strook, received an additional 570 million shekels, and the budget of the Settlement Division rose to 400 million shekels. In addition, the budget for settlement development sees a significant increase, rising by 50% from 65 million shekels in 2022 to 105 million shekels in 2024. The budget also includes the allocation of 260 million shekels for outposts. Read more here

  • 7) Establishment of the Homesh Outpost (May 2023)

The settlers are re-establishing the Homesh outpost in the Northern West Bank, with the support of Ministers Smotrich and Gallant, who, in doing so, ordered the military to violate its laws. From a foreign affairs perspective, by establishing the settlement, Israel is breaching its understandings with the United States dating back to the Bush and Sharon administrations, that is,  refraining from constructing settlements in the areas evacuated during the disengagement in 2005. Click here for more details on the re-establishment of Homesh.

  • 8) Promotion of a Massive Industrial Zone Between Ariel and the Green Line (June 2023) 

A plan has been proposed for the “Sha’ar Shomron” industrial zone, west of the Barkan and Ariel settlement industrial areas. The industrial zone is expected to become the largest settlement industrial zone in the West Bank (2,700 dunams) with 2 million square meters for industrial and commercial use. Its location will take advantage of Highway 5 and its proximity to the center of Israel for the movement of both goods and people. In essence, the Sha’ar Shomron will blur the Green Line, bring Israel’s economy into the West Bank territories, and support the economy of the settlements, primarily through property tax payments that will benefit the Shomron Regional Council and the local councils of Elkana and Oranit. Read more here

  • 9) Significant Change in Planning Procedures in the West Bank (June 2023) 

The Israeli government shifted the responsibility for settlement policy from the Defense Minister to the minister within the Ministry of Defense, Smotrich. It was decided that the approval of construction plans for settlements will be solely under the authority of Minister Smotrich, without needing the approval of the Minister of Defense nor the consent of the Prime Minister, as has been the case until now. The decision also removed many of the political (Minister of Defense) approvals that were previously needed in order to advance plans. The implication of this decision is that once Minister Smotrich approves the initial settlement plans in the West Bank, these plans will then be forwarded to the planning committees in the West Bank for further bureaucratic procedures and with no further need for any government approvals. Hence, diplomatic and security involvement will be with very limited capacity to delay the planning stages or influence the submitted plans. For more details on this matter, click here

  • 10) Establishment of at Least 6 Tourist Settlements in the West Bank (July 2023) 

The official purpose of the approved plan is for “restoring, preserving, developing, and preventing the destruction and looting of antiquities in the West Bank.” The cost of the decision is approximately 120 million NIS, and it complements an investment of 32 million NIS in the development of a tourism site in the settlement of Sebastiya, which was decided upon in May of this year. The main elements of the plan include (a) establishing a new tourist settlement at the archaeological site “Hasmonean Palaces” adjacent to the Palestinian city of Jericho, with access for Israeli citizens without crossing into Area A; (b) establishing 4-7 new tourist settlements at additional archaeological sites to be determined later; (c) monitoring of antiquities’ destruction, strictly preventing construction and agricultural work by Palestinians in Area C; (d) construction of a new archaeological museum with an unspecified location, but it will be within the occupied West Bank, and (e) allocating 13 million NIS for education and public outreach. For further information, continue reading here.

  •  11) New Settlement in Hebron (July 2023) 

Settlers established a new settlement in the heart of Hebron, expanding the Jewish presence in the city. The settlers entered a Palestinian house in Hebron, south of the Cave of the Patriarchs (across from the Sultan’s Pool), in an area currently without permanent settler presence. The entry of settlers into the house indicates that the government and the army are allowing and supporting the establishment of this new settlement. For further reading, click here.

  • 12) Advancement of Two New Settlements in East Jerusalem (September 23) 

The Jerusalem Local Planning and Building Committee has officially approved two building plans in East Jerusalem, both of which carry significant political implications. The first plan is located in the southern part of the city, adjacent to the Givat Hamatos neighborhood. It encompasses residential complexes (3,500 housing units), hotels (1,300 rooms), and commercial and employment areas. The second plan involves the construction of a new settlement right in the heart of the Palestinian neighborhood of Ras al-Amud (Al-Shayakh) and close to the Abu Dis Palestinian village, comprising 384 housing units. For more details, click here.

  • 13) A total of 13,638 housing units have been advanced in the West Bank, along with 18,223 housing units in East Jerusalem.

The planning authorities of the Civil Administration and the Ministry of Housing have promoted 12,349 housing units for settlements in the West Bank, marking the highest number of housing units advanced in West Bank settlements since the Oslo Accords. In addition, tenders have been published for the construction of 1,289 housing units across the West Bank. At the same time, in East Jerusalem settlements, 18,223 housing units have advanced since the beginning of the year (data collected by Ir Amim). For more details, read here.

In summary, these changes show Netanyahu’s determined efforts to annex the West Bank territory and prevent the possibility of reaching a two-state solution. Netanyahu’s policy is steering Israel to be an apartheid state, with Palestinians forever under occupation, and the entire region into a precarious situation at best and a violent clash at worst.