The Netanyahu government places the expansion of settlements in the West Bank as a top priority | Israel

The incoming hardline government of Benjamin Netanyahu put settlement expansion in the West Bank at the top of its priority list on Wednesday, vowing to legalize dozens of illegally built outposts and annex occupied lands as part of its coalition deal with its ultranationalist allies.

The coalition agreements, issued a day before the government was sworn in, also included language endorsing discrimination against LGBT people on religious grounds, as well as generous salaries for ultra-Orthodox men who would rather study than work.

The package laid the groundwork for what is expected to be a stormy start for the Netanyahu government and could put it at odds with large parts of the Israeli public and Israel’s closest allies abroad.

His long list of guidelines was led by a commitment to “advance and develop settlement throughout the Land of Israel,” including “Judea and Samaria,” the biblical names for the West Bank.

Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967 along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. The Palestinians seek to view the West Bank as the bastion of a future independent state. In the decades that followed, Israel built dozens of Jewish settlements there that now house some 500,000 Israelis living alongside some 2.5 million Palestinians.

Most of the international community considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal and an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians. The United States warned the incoming government against taking steps that would undermine waning hopes for an independent Palestinian state.

Netanyahu’s new government — the most religious and ultra-Orthodox in Israel’s history — is made up of the ultra-Orthodox parties, a far-right ultra-religious faction linked to the settler movement in the West Bank, and his Likud party. He is scheduled to be sworn in on Thursday.

many of Netanyahu’s main alliesIncluding most of the religious Zionist party, they are ultra-nationalist settlers of the West Bank.

In the coalition agreement between Likud and religious Zionism, Netanyahu pledges to legalize outposts deemed illegal even by the Israeli government. He also promised to annex the West Bank “with a choice of 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 fresh fuel to critics who compare Israeli policies in the West Bank to apartheid South Africa.

The deal also gives credit to Itamar Ben Gvir, far-right politician who will be in charge of the national police force as the newly created Minister of National Security.

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

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

Among other changes, he placed Bezalel Smotrich, a settler leader who heads the religious Zionist party, in a newly created ministerial position that oversees settlement policy in the West Bank.

Netanyahu returns to power after that He was removed from his post last year having served as prime minister from 2009 to 2021. He will take office during trial for allegedly accepting bribes, breach of trust and fraud, charges he denies.

His partners seek sweeping political reforms that could alienate large segments of the Israeli public, raise tensions with the Palestinians, and set 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 rebuked the Israeli government for this in the past.

Earlier on Wednesday, Israel’s figurehead president expressed his “deep concern” about the incoming government and its positions on LGBT rights, racism and the country’s Arab minority in a rare meeting he held with Ben Gvir, one of the coalition’s most extreme members.

The government program also stated that the loose rules governing holy sites, including the shrine of Jerusalem 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 Zionist politicians have called for changing the “status quo” to allow Jews to pray at the site, a move that risks raising tensions with the Palestinians. The site’s status is the emotional center of the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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