Annexation under the radar: the establishment of the Settlements Administration under Minister Bezalel Smotrich
Settlement Watch project, July 2023
On February 23, 2023, as part of the coalition agreements to form the current government, a document called “The Principles and Division of Responsibilities and Authorities between the Minister of Defense and the Additional Minister in the Ministry of Defense” was signed between the Minister of Defense (Yoav Galant), the Minister of Finance (Bezalel Smotrich), and a representative of the Prime Minister. The agreement established a new governmental body called the “Settlements Administration,” intended to manage all aspects of life in the settlements in the occupied Palestinian Territories (oPt). The new body is subject to the authority of Minister Smotrich, who effectively serves as the Minister of Settlements (in addition to his role as Minister of Finance).
According to the agreement, the management of most other aspects of the lives of the Palestinian population in the oPt remains in the hands of the military. It should be noted that the Settlements Administration, under Minister Smotrich, was also given direct authority over Palestinian affairs, including enforcement of planning and building laws against Palestinian construction in Area C, as well as managing all land-related matters, including land seizure and declaring ‘state lands’, among others. On the same day (February 23, 2023), the government had already appointed a close associate of Minister Smotrich as the head of the Settlements Administration and began implementing the agreement.
- – The establishment of a new governmental body called “the Settlements Administration (Judea and Samaria),” which is slated to govern all of the aspects of life in the settlements. The Administration will take over the roles of the Civil Administration, which is a military body, in governing the settlements and leaves the military Civil Administration only the governance of the aspects of the life of the Palestinians. The establishment of this new Administration signals the virtual annexation of the territories because the Administration, as opposed to the Army, is a civil governmental body that is obligated, by definition and pursuant to the law, to promote the interests of the State of Israel and its citizens and is not obligated to concern itself with the interests of the Palestinian population.
- – A separation has been created on the basis of nationality between Israeli settlers, who are governed by the Settlements Administration, and the Palestinian residents, who are governed by another body of the Civil Administration, and this is one characteristic of a system of apartheid.
- – Separate legal counsel for The Settlements Administration – while the military legal counsel is obligated to consider the interests of the occupied Palestinian population, and it serves as a restraining authority with respect to the government’s policies in the territories, the legal counsel of the Administration, which is subject to Minister Smotrich, is obligated to consider only the interests of the Israelis.
The Authority of the Settlements Administration:
- – The authority to approve all of the planning stages for Israelis in the West Bank, to establish and expand settlements, infrastructure, and highways, as well as the approval of planning for Palestinians (in coordination with the military Civil Administration). It bears noting that on June 18, 2023, the government decided to repeal the requirement of government approval for the various planning stages in the settlements yet left the approval of Palestinian planning under the authority of Minister Smotrich (under the direction of the cabinet and in coordination with the security apparatus).
- – All of the authority with respect to the expropriation of land in the territories, including expropriation for public needs, declaration of land as “government land,” and registration of land as government land.
- – Enforcement of planning and construction laws with respect to Palestinian construction in Area C as well as enforcement with respect to Israeli construction.
- – Responsibility for all aspects of land administration connected to the transfer of land from Palestinian possession to Israeli control, such as the registration of ownership, approval of transactions, and more.
- – Arrangement of outposts – administrative work and promotion of legalizing outposts to meet the threshold requirements of the planning committees. The Administration has complete authority to legalize outposts as neighborhoods of settlements.
- – Responsibility for electricity, water, communications, and highway infrastructure for Israelis and for Palestinians.
- – Responsibility for archeology and nature reserves.
- – Responsibility for agricultural farms.