Israeli government assigns sole responsibility for West Bank settlement planning process to Minister Smotrich

The government of Israel decided during its weekly meeting on Sunday, June 18, 2023, on a significant change in the planning procedures in the West Bank. It was decided that the responsibility for the planning procedures would transfer from the Minister of Defense to the Minister in the Ministry of Defense, Bezalel Smotrich. Furthermore, planning procedures would no longer require approval from the political echelon and the Minister of Defense.

Henceforth, the Prime Minister’s consent is no longer required for settlement expansion. The implication of this decision is that once Minister Smotrich decides and approves the advancement of construction plans in West Bank settlements, the plans will go directly to the planning committees in the West Bank (the Higher Planning Council), and the political and military echelon will have no authority to delay or influence the planning stages or the submitted plans. This process will allow unrestricted construction in the West Bank, disregarding security and diplomatic considerations, and perpetuating de facto annexation in the West Bank.

The government’s decision includes two main clauses: the first clause pertains to the transfer of responsibility and authority over the Higher Planning Committee from the Minister of Defense to Minister Smotrich. This decision aligns with the agreement signed between Ministers Galant and Smotrich in February 2023, transferring authorities from the former to the latter. The second clause effectively eliminates the requirement for political and military approvals in the West Bank construction process. Up until now, every stage of advancing a construction plan in the West Bank required the approval of the Minister of Defense. The minister’s approval was necessary for the initial plan submission, pre-deposit discussion, plan deposit, pre-approval for validation discussion, and publication of validation. In other words, there were five stages in which the Minister of Defense could influence the advancement of the process.

Until now, the decision on planning required the political echelon’s consent, i.e., the approval of the Minister of Defense with the consent of the Prime Minister, as settlement construction has significant security and political implications. Following the government’s decision on last Sunday, it was determined that there is no longer a need for the Prime Minister’s approval to authorize settlement expansion or the construction of new neighborhoods. Moreover, the construction of roads for the settlers will also be allowed without the approval of the political echelon. Therefore, since the need for the Prime Minister’s approval has been eliminated, and the authority has been transferred from the Minister of Defense to the Minister in the Ministry of Defense, Minister Smotrich remains the sole representative of the political echelon that determines these decisions.

Planning in these areas is intended to undermine the possibility of a two-state solution and should be seen as a political decision. Removing the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense from the approval mechanism for planning in the settlements has significant and unprecedented political, diplomatic, and security implications. For example, it is understood that construction in these territories has a clear security aspect, as it requires the IDF to protect those living there. This involves the deployment of forces, allocation of military resources, implications for IDF training, utilization of IDF personnel, and more. This crucial aspect is absent from the decision due to the exclusion of the Minister of Defense’s involvement.

Simultaneously, removing the requirement for the Prime Minister’s approval turns construction in the West Bank into an internal Israeli matter, similar to expanding a neighborhood within Israel’s borders. This means that the Prime Minister no longer has direct authority for construction in the West Bank. Now, without the ability of the political echelon to influence the promotion of building plans, it can be expected that plans will be advanced at a higher rate and regardless of sensitive political and security times.

Removing the responsibility of the political echelon and the Minister of Defense for planning in the West Bank turns the occupied territories into just another construction zone within Israel. From a planning perspective, there is no difference between the Tel Aviv district and the “Judea and Samaria” district, except for the initial decision by Minister Smotrich. Alongside these decisions, it should be noted that already in the Transfer of Authorities agreement signed between Smotrich and Galant in February, it was determined that decisions regarding the promotion of plans for Palestinians in Area C will be determined by the Security-Diplomatic Cabinet and their approval in the subsequent process will be jointly determined by Minister Smotrich and the Minister of Defense. Hence, there are now two different procedures for Palestinian and settlement construction planning.

Peace Now: “The Netanyahu government has decided to abandon its security and foreign policy in the hands of a messianic hilltop youth and grant him, and only him, all the power and authority to determine the settlement planning policy. This decision is pushing Israel towards full annexation and the establishment of an apartheid regime. Planning is now in the hands of Smotrich, but we will all pay the price.”