Smotrich’s Plan to Boost West Bank Settlements Sparks Outrage

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has announced his intention to allocate NIS 670 million ($180 million) to West Bank settlements and allow the Interior Ministry to transfer funds to “unregulated places” — apparently illegal settler outposts — according to a report by The Times of Israel. Smotrich is advancing the move with Settlements Minister Orit Strock of his far-right Religious Zionism party. The plan will be brought up for a government decision at the coming weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday.

The report said that the outlay will be partly funded by shaving the budgets of some other ministries — including NIS 130 million ($35 million) from the Education Ministry and NIS 200 million ($53.5 million) from the Interior Ministry. The report also said that the timing of the move — two months before nationwide mayoral elections — creates legal difficulties as there are complications with the government transferring funds to specific localities so close to a vote.

Smotrich’s Plan to Boost West Bank Settlements Sparks Outrage
Smotrich’s Plan to Boost West Bank Settlements Sparks Outrage

Arab communities protest against budget cuts

Smotrich’s budgetary actions have recently come under criticism after he decided to hold back NIS 200 million ($55 million) budgeted to develop Arab municipalities and freeze NIS 2.5 billion ($670 million) in funds meant for Arabs in East Jerusalem. Facing widespread pushback, Smotrich announced a team will be formed to ensure the money isn’t misused, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the funds will then be transferred.

The Abraham Initiatives, which campaigns for equal social and political rights among Jews and Arabs, responded to the report by accusing the government of trying to make the lives of Arab citizens “intolerable.” “Instead of transferring budgets to Israeli citizens who live within the borders of the country and desperately need budgets to reduce the gaps, the finance minister sees himself as the finance minister of the settlements only,” the group said.

Arab municipalities have called a general strike for next Monday in protest of Smotrich holding up the funds, and have threatened to not open the coming school year at the beginning of September. The funds, aimed at boosting the economy, upgrading infrastructure and fighting crime in Arab communities, were approved by the previous government, which included the Islamist Ra’am party alongside left-wing, centrist and right-wing parties that united in opposition to Netanyahu.

International reactions vary on settlement expansion

Smotrich’s plan to allocate more funds to West Bank settlements, including illegal outposts, has also drawn mixed reactions from the international community. While some countries, such as the United States, have expressed concern over the potential impact on the prospects of a two-state solution and urged Israel to halt settlement activity, others, such as Hungary and Brazil, have voiced support for Israel’s sovereignty over its disputed territories.

The European Union, which considers all Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal under international law, has condemned Smotrich’s plan as a violation of Israel’s obligations under the Oslo Accords and a threat to regional stability. The EU has also called on Israel to reverse its decision and resume dialogue with the Palestinians.

The Palestinian Authority, which claims the West Bank as part of its future state, has denounced Smotrich’s plan as a provocation and an act of aggression. The PA has also accused Israel of sabotaging the peace process and undermining the chances of creating a viable Palestinian state. The PA has urged the international community to intervene and pressure Israel to stop its settlement expansion.

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