Israel’s Cabinet Just Advanced Full-fledged Apartheid in the West Bank

| Haaretz |

Under the thunderous bombardment of the government coup, the cabinet last week advanced a regime-change measure in the West Bank that carries dramatic implications.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant signed an agreement assigning governmental powers in the West Bank to a body to be headed by the minister in his ministry, Bezalel Smotrich, and removing much of the jurisdiction of the Civil Administration from military command. Once the agreement is implemented, Smotrich will in effect become the governor of the West Bank, holding powers that will allow him to control nearly almost all areas of life there, including planning, building and infrastructure, which he intends to use to expand the settlement enterprise and stop all Palestinian development.

Israel has been carrying out de facto annexation in the West Bank for many years, with Israeli civilian authorities dictating the policy of the Civil Administration. All previous Israeli governments, however, have been cautious about interfering with the formal governing structure in the occupied West Bank and have been careful to keep the occupation as a military government.

The concentration of powers in an occupying military force, temporarily until an agreed solution is reached on the status of the occupied territory, is a principle of international law – an expression of the important prohibition against obtaining sovereignty that was introduced in the wake of World War II. The prohibition against annexing occupied territory is one of the foundations of the new world order that was built on the ruins of the world wars, and its goal is to eliminate one of the incentives for going to war.

In legal terms, the assignment of governmental powers in the West Bank to its new civilian governor, particularly alongside the plan to expand the dual justice system, so that Israeli law will apply fully and directly to settlers in the West Bank and civilian Israeli authorities will wield direct governmental powers in the settlements – provisions that are also part of the Gallant-Smotrich agreement – constitutes de jure annexation of the West Bank. In light of the fact that there is no intention of granting civil rights to the millions of Palestinians living in the West Bank, the result of the agreement is a formal, full-fledged apartheid regime.

As if that were not enough, this severe breach of international law is taking place in the framework of a corrupt deal of powers in exchange for funding. Smotrich leveraged his position as finance minister to force the transfer of authorities at a time when the defense budget for the next two years is being determined. The military brass, and with them the defense minister, should have stood firm in the face of the finance minister’s threats and refused to sell the governmental powers in the West Bank – and their surrender is shameful. But it is still not too late. The annexation agreement must not be executed.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.