(Photo credit: Oded Balilty/AP)
Israel’s Religious Zionism party on 7 February issued a statement highlighting that there will be “no pause” to the expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, despite the pressure exerted by the US on senior officials.
“There will be no construction freeze in [the West Bank], period. There will be no damage done to Israeli deterrence against terrorists, period. There will be no continuation of illegal construction and Arab land-grabbing in open areas, period,” the statement reads.
The far-right Religious Zionism party is led by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir.
On Monday, Smotrich reportedly held a closed-door meeting with mayors from Jewish settlements in the West Bank to inform them that, for the time being, they should refrain from establishing new settlements and that all such activity should be coordinated with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Smotrich also told the gathering that he plans to create a new “settlement administration” that would be part of the Defense Ministry and be in charge of “promoting settlements.”
Last month, Netanyahu announced his support for transferring the responsibility of civilian affairs in the occupied West Bank to Smotrich, following in-fighting between coalition blocs in which Smotrich clashed with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant over control of the Civil Administration.
According to UN estimates, some 700,000 Israeli settlers live in the occupied West Bank.
During a visit to Tel Aviv last week, US State Secretary Anthony Blinken pressured the Israeli premier to stop Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank and halt the demolition of Palestinian homes.
Washington also offered a “security plan” to the Palestinian Authority (PA) that involved establishing a “special Palestinian force” to counter resistance factions. However, the plan asked for no concessions from Tel Aviv and ignored the diminished legitimacy of the PA in the West Bank.
Blinken’s trip to Israel came a few days after US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and CIA chief William Burns visited the occupied Palestinian territories in the wake of a spike in violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
Last week, Burns warned that the deteriorating situation in occupied Palestine has a “very unhappy resemblance” to the events leading up to the Second Intifada 20 years ago.