Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, in his capacity as a minister in the Defense Ministry, is reportedly developing a plan to allow Israel to demolish buildings in the West Bank’s areas A and B, a violation of the Oslo Accords.
According to a report by the Haaretz newspaper on Wednesday, the plan, which would constitute a sharp shift in Israeli policy, was announced by Smotrich in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee during a hearing on “The Palestinian Authority’s Takeover of Open Land in Judea and Samaria and the Israeli Response.”
While Israel currently enforces construction regulations only in Area C of the West Bank, where it has full civilian and military control, the discussion centered around the subject of Palestinian construction in areas A and B, where Israel does not hold civilian jurisdiction.
According to the report, Smotrich told the committee that policy regarding enforcement of construction regulations should not be guided by the rule of law, but rather by “Israel’s national, diplomatic and security interest in the area.”
The plan takes into account “national security considerations, and it’s key to our ability to operate in areas A and B, too, in places where it’s needed,” he said, according to Haaretz.
Smotrich said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is involved in the effort, and that an inter-ministerial committee would be established to advance the initiative. He added that the plan would involve the founding of a Border Patrol unit dedicated to enforcing construction regulations in the West Bank.
The report further stated that an IDF representative at the hearing said that 90-95 percent of Palestinian request for construction requests are denied while 60-70% of Israeli construction requests are approved.
As part of the coalition agreements, Smotrich, the head of the far-right Religious Zionism party, was handed broad authority over civilian issues in the West Bank, enabling him to deepen Israel’s presence in the West Bank, increase settlement construction and thwart Palestinian development.
Specifically, Smotrich was given authority over some responsibilities of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) and the Civil Administration, the two Defense Ministry agencies in charge of civilian affairs in Area C of the West Bank where Israel has full security and civilian control.
This authority would allow Smotrich to advance his goal of thwarting Palestinian aspirations for a state in the West Bank by enabling the Israeli population there to substantially expand.
According to the Oslo II Accords, signed in 1995 by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the West Bank is divided into three areas, A, B and C. While Area C is under full Israeli control, Area B is under Palestinian civilian control and Israeli security control, and Area A is under full Palestinian control.