Incoming Israeli PM Netanyahu to advance West Bank annexation



Israel's incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to advance annexation of the West Bank according to a coalition deal that was made public on Thursday.

Netanyahu, who signed a series of coalition deals on Wednesday and Thursday, announced that he had succeeded in forming a coalition government with religious and far-right coalition partners that is set to bring him back to power as the leader of the most right-wing government in Israeli history.

"In light of our belief in the aforementioned right, the prime minister will lead the formulation and advancement of policies within the framework of applying sovereignty in Judea and Samaria," the relevant clause in the coalition deal signed with the Religious Zionism states. Judea and Samaria is the Biblical name for the West Bank.

The commitment in the coalition deal is pretty vague. It doesn't mention whether the annexation is over the entire West Bank or only parts of it nor the timing of the move, but it states that Netanyahu will do so while "choosing the timing and weighing all of the State of Israel's national and international interests."

An Israeli television channel, Channel 12, reported that another clause from the coalition deal says settlers living in "high-risk areas" will begin receiving tax breaks next year.

Another coalition deal that Netanyahu signed with Jewish Power, an extreme-right party led by Itamar Ben-Gvir, says that a law that bans candidates who incite racism from running in the parliamentary election will be cancelled.

When Netanyahu served as prime minister in 2020, he pushed to annex some 30 percent of the West Bank, but he shelved the plan after suffering severe pressure from the international community, including the administration of then-U.S. President Donald Trump.

It's expected that any further move to annex the West Bank will again meet with intense opposition from the international community.

The U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides warned last month that the Biden administration would push back against any annexation attempt and "most of the Arab countries" are similarly opposed to annexation. He added at the time that he did not expect Israel to go through with it.

The weeks of wrangling over the coalition and Netanyahu's reliance on ultra-nationalist and ultra-religious parties for his return to power have made clear that the coalition still faces significant internal tensions.

"The government being formed here is dangerous, radical and irresponsible. This will end badly," outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist party of Yesh Atid, warned in a televised address on Thursday evening.

"Netanyahu is weak, and they (his partners) have formed the most extreme government in the nation's history," said Lapid.

To alleviate concerns, Netanyahu said in an interview with Saudi broadcaster Al Arabiya last week that he hadn't handed over power on the West Bank. He said, "In fact, all the decisions will be made by me and the defense minister, and that's actually in the coalition agreement."

Following the interview, Likud issued a clarification, saying that Netanyahu was referring to "the security powers that will be in his and the defense minister's hands," and not to the agreement with Religious Zionism on civil matters, adding that decisions regarding such matters "will be made in coordination with the prime minister, as is written in the coalition agreement."

Netanyahu needs to finalize the agreements with his coalition partners and appoint ministers before a deadline on January 2, 2023, the latest date his government can be sworn in.

(Xinhua and Reuters)