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Israel: New Netanyahu government vows to expand settlements

December 28, 2022

Benjamin Netanyahu's incoming far-right coalition wants to build new communities in the disputed regions of the Golan Heights, the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Such a move could harm Israel's ties with the US.

The Israeli settlement of Har Homa in East Jerusalem
New settlements in disputed territories such as East Jerusalem may cause friction between Netanyahu and US President Joe BidenImage: AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP

Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud Party announced its key policy priorities for the new Israeli government on Wednesday, with settlement expansion at the top of the list.   

"The government will advance and develop settlement in all parts of Israel — in the Galilee, the Negev Desert, the Golan Heights and Judea and Samaria [West Bank]," the document said. 

The Golan Heights, the West Bank and east Jerusalem are all disputed regions, which were taken over by Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967.

EU countries, for example, do not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is viewed as illegally occupied Syrian territory.

The West Bank and east Jerusalem, meanwhile, have been sought by some Palestinian negotiators as key territories of a future Palestinian state. But hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers already live in communities in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.  

New settlements could harm Israel's ties with key allies

The new settlements could cause friction between Israel and key allies, such as the United States. President Joe Biden's administration has voiced opposition to new Israeli construction in the West Bank.

 The German government has also said that "the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and in east Jerusalem is increasingly jeopardizing the territorial basis for a future Palestinian state." 

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The US has not yet commented on the policy guidelines released Wednesday. A spokesperson for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the AP news agency there is no prospect for "peace, security or stability in the region" without a negotiated two-state solution.

Settlement expansion in the West Bank has also been condemned by global bodies such as the UN, which sees such a policy as illegal under international law.

Incoming Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, the head of the Religious Zionism party, will be in charge of managing Jewish settlements in the West Bank. In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Smotrich claimed his settlement policy "doesn't entail changing [their] political or legal status."

Security also major priority for far-right coalition

The Likud Party policy document is being released one day before the swearing-in of Israel's new governing coalition, with Netanyahu returning to the premiership. The new government is considered Israel's most right-wing ever, with several hard-line and ultra-Orthodox parties taking part.  

Incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Netanyahu earlier served as Israeli prime minister from 1996 to 1999 and 2009 to 2021Image: Abir Sultan/Pool EPA/AP/dpa/picture alliance

In addition to settlements, security is also a major priority for the new Israeli government, with Netanyahu remaining steadfast in his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal

"The government will work to promote peace with all neighbors while ensuring Israel's security, historical and national interests are safeguarded," the document said. 

Netanyahu named former hawkish military commander Yoav Galant as defense minister on Wednesday. Galant has frequently vowed to curb Iranian influence in the region, particularly in Syria.    

wd/dj (AP, dpa)