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Former lawmakers, top soldiers blast deal giving Smotrich authority over West Bank

Yair Golan warns of ‘dismantling of government institutions’; Moshe Ya’alon, ex-defense minister under Netanyahu, says PM-designate is ‘forsaking the country’

Religious Zionism party head Bezalel Smotrich at a conference organized by the Makor Rishon newspaper, at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, November 27, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Religious Zionism party head Bezalel Smotrich at a conference organized by the Makor Rishon newspaper, at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, November 27, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Former Israeli politicians and senior IDF officers railed against a coalition agreement that will see far-right leader Bezalel Smotrich receive extensive powers over Israeli settlements and Palestinian construction in the West Bank.

Under the agreement, signed Thursday between Smotrich’s Religious Zionism party and Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, authority over the settlement and open lands divisions in the powerful Civil Administration and Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) unit will be handed to a Religious Zionism minister based in the Defense Ministry, possibly Smotrich himself.

“What we’re witnessing is the dismantling of government institutions,” said Yair Golan, a former MK of the dovish Meretz party who served as deputy chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces from 2014-2017.

“We’re witnessing institutionalized anarchy that will see the extreme fringes of Israeli politics receive authority over the operational bodies of the country, which they will subordinate to their own political desires,” Golan said.

He added that breaking up the Defense Ministry’s authority on the matter between ministers would cause “chaos” in and of itself and that ideology-driven policies would lead to further havoc.

Moshe Ya’alon, who served as defense minister under Netanyahu (2013-2016) and as chief of staff of the IDF (2002-2005), accused the presumed premier of abusing his power and “forsaking” the country, citing other agreements reached between Netanyahu and far-right figures in recent days.

“Netanyahu… you did not receive a mandate to form a coalition against the country… You did not receive a mandate to forsake our security by handing it over to pyromaniacs who support Jewish terrorism, who hurt the IDF and its commanders,” Ya’alon tweeted.

Then-deputy economy and industry minister Yair Golan, poses during an interview with The Associated Press in his office at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on January 17, 2022. (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)

“You don’t have the mandate to forsake the education of our children by placing it in the hands of prejudiced people,” he added, referencing Netanyahu’s deal with Noam party leader Avi Maoz that will give the far-right leader known for strident anti-LGBT views authority over some content at Israeli schools.

“You haven’t received a mandate to forsake the citizens of Israel so you can escape your trial. Enough!” he concluded. The incoming government is pursuing planned reforms in the judiciary that could hinder or even halt Netanyahu’s ongoing trial on corruption charges.

Moshe Ya’alon seen during a visit to the Vered Yeriho observation point, in the Judean Desert, January 21, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Palestinian foreign ministry warned Wednesday that “Israeli far-right extremists are trying to control authorities relating to Palestinian citizens in a clear indicator to the nature of their hostile, racist and colonial political agenda toward Palestinians.”

The ministry urged the international community to appoint a third party committed to safeguarding the rights of Palestinians once the next government is sworn in.

The deal signed between Smotrich and Netanyahu will essentially give Religious Zionism control over key aspects of civil life in the West Bank’s Area C, including parts of the Civil Administration governing Israeli and Palestinian construction there.

It marks a significant achievement for Smotrich, and a potential source of friction, given the Religious Zionism leader’s unstinting support for settlement expansion and hardline positions on the Palestinians.

Smotrich performed only brief military service, and was jailed for three weeks by the Shin Bet in 2005 when suspected of planning terrorist activity to protest the Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip. He was never charged.

Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich, center, visits the illegal outpost of Evyatar, in the West Bank, on June 27, 2021. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Earlier this month, Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, a former head of the Military Intelligence Directorate and a former top Defense Ministry official, expressed concerns over Smotrich’s suitability for a senior defense-related role due to “his ideology” and far-right activism.

“This man was arrested during activities to set fire to the Ayalon Highway, or other terror attacks,” he said at a conference in Beersheba, referring to allegations that the lawmaker planned to attack motorists on the major artery to protest the 2005 Gaza disengagement.

“Smotrich can’t deny himself, he is a man with a backbone. He can’t deny the circles he came from. If he upsets the delicate balance in [the northern West Bank], it will upset relations with counties in the region. This is exactly what [Hamas’s Gaza leader] Yahya Sinwar wants,” Gilad warned.

He added: “If Smotrich implements his ideology, I expect a major disaster.”

Carrie Keller-Lynn and Tobias Siegal contributed to this report.

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