Finance minister vows to fight sanctions on settlers

Israel appropriates 42 acres in West Bank’s Etzion Bloc, declaring it state land

Gush Etzion mayor hails move that will allow tourism development at Herodium site; Smotrich orders demolition of three illegal Palestinian buildings over terror shooting

Land surrounding the Herodium archaeological site in the West Bank that was appropriated as state land, on April 1, 2024. (Gush Etzion Regional Council)
Land surrounding the Herodium archaeological site in the West Bank that was appropriated as state land, on April 1, 2024. (Gush Etzion Regional Council)

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich announced Monday that the Civil Administration, an agency in the Defense Ministry, has declared 170 dunams (42 acres) of land surrounding the Herodium archaeological site in the West Bank region of the Etzion Bloc as “state land,” meaning land that is not privately owned and can be used for various purposes, including settlement development.

Smotrich, who has authority over the Civil Administration as part of his role as a second minister in the Defense Ministry, said he has been working on advancing declarations of state land in the West Bank over the last year, which he described as “very important processes in the campaign for open spaces [in the West Bank].”

Gush Etzion Regional Council Chairman Yaron Rosenthal lauded the announcement, saying it will serve as a catalyst for transforming the Herodium site into an international tourist center. He added that it will “bring prosperity to the entire region” and is “a magnificent testimony to our historical connection with this part of the country.”

In an additional move, three illegally built buildings near the Palestinian West Bank village of al-Auja — 50 meters away from where a terror shooting took place Thursday — were demolished on Monday, as per Smotrich’s orders.

Smotrich’s office confirmed to The Times of Israel that he had requested the Civil Administration expedite the enforcement process for the illegal structures because of the terror attack.

Last month, some 8,000 dunams (1,976 acres) of land was declared state land in the Jordan Valley, the largest such declaration in decades according to groups opposed to the settlement movement. The move was condemned by French President Emmanuel Macron.

Israeli security forces inspect the area of a shooting attack in Al-Auja in the West Bank on March 28, 2024 (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

And in February, 2,640 dunams (650 acres) were declared state land east of Jerusalem.

Despite opposition abroad, Israel has in recent decades built dozens of settlements across the West Bank. They are now home to more than 490,000 Israelis, who live alongside around three million Palestinians in the territory.

The Biden administration said in February that settlements were “inconsistent” with international law, after Israel announced new housing plans.

Smotrich also pledged Monday to “fight with all our might” and not “let up” until all Western sanctions against West Bank settlers were lifted.

The US and several European nations have imposed sanctions on individual settlers accused of engaging in violence against Palestinians.

Addressing the press ahead of his Religious Zionism party’s weekly faction meeting in the Knesset, Smotrich complained of “unprecedented sanctions on Israeli citizens whose entire sin is that they settle in Judea and Samaria and guard the lands of our country.”

“We will not agree to this and will fight with all our might against it,” he said.

Finance Bezalel Smotrich speaks at the Maariv economic conference in Tel Aviv, March 26, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

“I am happy to inform you that thanks to my insistence and unequivocal demand together with the prime minister and Minister [of Strategic Affairs Ron] Dermer, the American government has delivered a letter that dramatically reduces the sanctions that have been taken and allows the banks to release the settlers’ bank accounts that were completely frozen,” he continued.

“It’s still not enough, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction and we won’t let up until all the sanctions are lifted.”

Last week, the US informed Israel that its sanctions were not intended to compel Israeli banks to close the accounts of targeted individuals.

Settler violence spiked after the October 7 massacre carried out by the Hamas terror group in southern Israel, in which some 1,200 people were slaughtered and 253 were taken hostage, but violence was already on the rise before then, according to watchdogs.

In October, the Shin Bet was reported to have warned the government that the increase in settler attacks may cause an eruption of violence committed by Palestinians.

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