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government makes West Bank settlement expansion a priority | Israel

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On Wednesday, the hardline new government of Benjamin Netanyahu put settlement expansion in the West Bank at the top of its priority list, promising to legalize dozens of illegally built outposts and annex occupied territory as part of its coalition agreement with its ultranational allies.

The coalition agreements, released a day before the government took office, also included language endorsing discrimination against LGBTQ+ people on religious grounds, as well as generous allowances for ultra-Orthodox men who prefer to study instead of work. to work.

The package laid the groundwork for what should be a stormy start for Netanyahu’s government and could put him at odds with much of the Israeli public and Israel’s closest allies abroad.

Its long list of guidelines was guided by a commitment to “advance and develop settlement in all parts of the land of Israel,” including “Judea and Samaria,” the biblical names for the West Bank.

Israel captured the West Bank in 1967 along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. The Palestinians seek the West Bank as the heart of a future independent state. Over the decades that followed, Israel built dozens of Jewish settlements there that are now home to around 500,000 Israelis living alongside around 2.5 million Palestinians.

Most of the international community views Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal and an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians. The United States has warned the new government against any move that could undermine dwindling hopes of establishing an independent Palestinian state.

Netanyahu’s new government – the most religious and hardline in Israel’s history – is made up of ultra-Orthodox parties, a far-right ultra-nationalist religious faction affiliated with the West Bank settler movement and his party, Likud. He is due to be sworn in Thursday.

Several of Nathaniel’s main alliesmost of whom are members of the Religious Zionism Party, are ultra-nationalist West Bank settlers.

In the coalition agreement between Likud and Religious Zionism, Netanyahu pledges to legalize wild settlement outposts considered illegal even by the Israeli government. He also promises to annex the West Bank “while choosing the timing and taking into account the national and international interests of the State of Israel”.

Such a move would alienate much of the world and give new fuel to critics who compare Israeli policies in the West Bank to apartheid South Africa.

The agreement also grants favors to Itamar Ben-Gvir, far-right politician who will be in charge of the national police as the newly created national security minister.

It includes a commitment to expand and dramatically increase government funding for Israeli settlements in the divided West Bank city of Hebron, where Ben-Gvir lives among a small settler community amid tens of thousands of Palestinians.

This agreement also includes a clause pledging to change the country’s anti-discrimination laws to allow companies to refuse to serve people “based on religious belief”. The legislation sparked outrage earlier this week and concerns about the encroachment on LGBTQ+ rights. He said he would not let the law pass, but left the clause in the coalition agreement nonetheless.

Among his other changes was the placement of Bezalel Smotrich, a settler leader who leads the Religious Zionism party, in a newly created ministerial post overseeing settlement policy in the West Bank.

is back neon after he was ousted from office last year After serving as prime minister from 2009 to 2021, he will take office pending trial for allegedly accepting bribes, breach of trust and fraud, charges he denies.

Its partners seek widespread political reforms that could alienate large swathes of the Israeli public, increase tensions with Palestinians, and put the country on a collision course with the United States and American Jewry.

The Biden administration has said it strongly opposes settlement expansion and has chastised the Israeli government for it in the past.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Israeli president’s figurehead expressed “deep concern” about the new government and its stances on LGBTQ+ rights, racism and the country’s Arab minority in a rare meeting called with Ben- Gvir, one of the most radical members of the coalition.

The government platform also mentioned that loosely defined rules governing holy sites, including the Jerusalem shrine known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the al-Aqsa Mosque complex, would remain. the same.

Ben-Gvir and other Religious Zionism politicians had called for the “status quo” to be changed to allow Jewish prayer at the site, a move that risked stoking tensions with the Palestinians. The status of the site is the emotional center of the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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