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White House sparring with Netanyahu over complaints about U.S. aid

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Israel has handed key responsibilities for the occupied West Bank to an administrator who reports to Bezalel Smotrich, a hardline government minister who supports annexation of the territory, in what analysts and human rights activists say is the latest step toward the far right. The purpose of expanding Israeli settlements There.

The executive move has been a long-standing goal of Smotrich, the finance minister and settler leader, and strengthens his formal authority over many areas of civilian life, including building and demolition permits, a crucial tool for settlers who see construction as a way to strengthen their control over the West Bank.

This is one of the latest changes to the way the West Bank has been governed over the past two years by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the most right-wing government in Israeli history. Simplify the planning process Build new settlements and gradually Transfer more power From Defence Minister Yoav Gallant to Mr Smotrich, a longtime settler activist who wants to block the possibility of a Palestinian state in the territory.

The moves stop short of bringing the West Bank completely under civilian control and have limited impact on the 40 percent of the West Bank governed by the Palestinian Authority, a semiautonomous, Palestinian-run body, but critics say they bring Israel closer to annexing the territory.

Israel has for decades defended its control of territory in the region as a temporary military occupation since the 1967 war, in line with international law applicable to occupied territories, rather than a permanent annexation that would place the West Bank under the sovereign control of Israeli civilian authorities. But the power of civilian minister Smotrich has put that argument to the test.

The latest move by the Israeli military to appoint a civilian chief to run an area previously run solely by the military was finalized on May 29, according to two copies of military orders reviewed by The New York Times. The order named a deputy head of the West Bank civil administration, who would report to Smotrich, an ultranationalist in Netanyahu’s coalition who has broad powers in the West Bank.

Settlers like Smotrich want to build more Israeli settlements in the West Bank, lands that Palestinians hope will form the core of a future Palestinian state. While previous Israeli governments and generals have built and protected hundreds of settlements, the latest order could accelerate the process, analysts and activists say.

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, center, has been given new powers to oversee Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and settlement construction.Credit…Menachem Kahana/AFP—Getty Images

Critics The government has been accused and failed to crack down on illegal settlement construction and settler violence, and obstructed law enforcement measures.

Since the war broke out in October, the government has carried out military strikes in the region almost every day, claiming that the attacks are targeting terrorists. The settlers are bold and promulgated new regulations, Additional economic pressure on Palestine.

“We are talking about a change that has a very clear political dimension to allow various settlement construction plans to be implemented quickly and without any hindrance,” said Michael Milstein, an author and expert on Palestinian studies at Tel Aviv University.

The military has been responsible for civil administration and security in much of the West Bank for decades, and critics say the shift to civilian administration, a long-standing goal of Smotrich, ties decision-making more closely to Israeli domestic politics. However, analysts say Defense Minister Yoav Galant will have reservations and could block certain measures.

Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher at the Israeli NGO Ir Amim, said the order was “historic” because “it is the first time that the West Bank is being governed in a formal way, not through the military, but through Israel’s civilian political system.”

He said that although hidden from view, the influence of civilian politics on the military government had long existed to some extent, “but now it has stopped playing games”.

A spokesman for Smotrich did not respond to a request for comment.

Analysts say Hillel Roth, a settler and member of a religious nationalist community nominated for the new administration, may act to promote Mr. Smotrich’s agenda.

Milstein noted that Smotrich has also sought to weaken the Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the West Bank. Withholding income The authority’s severe fiscal crisis has been exacerbated by a sharp drop in tax revenues. In June, Smotrich said he had ordered the transfer of about $35 million in tax revenues that Israel had collected on behalf of the authority. To the families of victims of Israeli terrorism.

Since Israel occupied the West Bank (previously controlled by Jordan) in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, the Israeli government has encouraged Jewish settlement and provided land, military protection, electricity, water and roads. Currently, there are 2.7 million Palestinians in the region, including more than 500,000 settlers.

Most of the world considers settlements illegal. Some Israeli Jews Justifying the Settlement Others do so for religious reasons, while others base it on history (both ancient and modern), and still others believe that Israel must control the territory to prevent armed Palestinian groups from seizing power.

Patrick Kingsley Contributed reporting.

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