Local leaders laud Smotrich’s plan to extend civilian control in Judea and Samaria

Local leaders laud Smotrich’s plan to extend civilian control in Judea and Samaria

Judea and Samaria leaders on Tuesday applauded Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s announcement earlier this week that major steps had been taken to transfer administrative authority in the area from military to civilian hands.

The initiative will lead to increased Israeli autonomy in the region while enhancing security, and is a practical step in the right direction, they told JNS.

On June 9, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who also holds a ministerial post in the Defense Ministry, told a gathering of Judea and Samaria leaders that the government was working to implement “a completely new enforcement system in the Civil Administration.”

The Civil Administration is an arm of the Defense Ministry which Smotrich himself oversees, and is responsible for approving construction and handling other civilian bureaucratic matters throughout Judea and Samaria.

Smotrich told the leaders that that significant, irreversible strides had been made toward transferring authority to civilian hands.

The administration is established. The transfer of legal authority is fixed,” he said. “If tomorrow the government falls and I leave, it’s there. Such is how it’s defined and set.

“I’m saying to you that this thing is mega-dramatic,” he added.

Israel Ganz, who heads the Binyamin Regional Council and was recently elected as chairman of the Yesha Council, told JNS he supports Smotrich’s initiative, and that Israel must continue to tighten its grip over Judea and Samaria, which is key to safeguarding the entire country.

“Whoever didn’t understand the events surrounding Oct. 7, Oct. 7 will come back and haunt him,” he said. “The people of Israel understand that the establishment of a Palestinian state surrounding the homes and beds of our children in Kfar Saba, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem will bring the next massacre upon the State of Israel—and this time may also lead to its obliteration,” he added.

“All these years we knew and said that the Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria, in the heart of the Land of Israel, represents the values of strength and security for the State of Israel,” he continued. “Therefore, while a lot of time has passed—[this policy is] better late than never,” he added.

Israel must eliminate any possibility of an Arab takeover of the territory, “which the P.A. promotes every single day, backed by…international actors,” he said.

At the June 9 gathering of Judea and Samaria leaders, Smotrich explained that the move would strengthen the growth of Jewish communities while blocking the P.A.’s plan to unilaterally establish a state.

According to Israeli NGO Regavim, the P.A. has for years engaged in illegal construction in Judea and Samaria with the aim of establishing facts on the ground in strategic corridors throughout Area “C,” which is under full Israeli control.

Eliram Azulai, head of the Har Hebron Regional Council, told JNS, “The Civil Administration, which was established to provide a temporary solution, is no longer relevant in an area with over half a million [Jewish] residents.”

It was not realistic, he said, “that in order to open a new classroom in our one of municipal schools, we need to wait for a soldier in uniform.”

It was “very difficult” to build in Judea and Samaria communities and boost the region’s economy when the regional council heads are subject to the Israel Defense Forces, he said.

“The army has enough on its plate in terms of security, and its efforts should be focused in that realm only,” he added.

New York Times headline claimed Smotrich’s initiative was part of a “secret government bid to cement control of the West Bank.”

Responding to the report via X, Smotrich wrote, “The New York Times ‘investigation’ did not reveal any secrets. The vast majority of the Israeli public moved on after the massacre by Hamas and understands full well that a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria would endanger the existence of Israel and opposes it.”

Yisrael Medad, long-time volunteer foreign media spokesperson for the Yesha Council, told JNS that Smotrich’s plan to transfer as much administrative responsibility as possible from military to civilian hands “should be in the interest of all, especially those elements seeking to uphold democratic values.”

The IDF, he said, “is an insular and hierarchical institution,” whereas a civilian-run unit “would be more sensitive as well as more considerate of the needs of all elements of the population, both Arabs as well as Jews, and others.”

Sovereignty Movement founders and co-chairs Nadia Matar and Yehudit Katsover told JNS they were supportive of Smotrich’s initiative, but called on the government to go even further and advocate for complete Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.

“Minister Smotrich’s move to turn over more control in Judea and Samaria to a civilian entity is a good first step for the development of our communities, but too small a step,” they said.

“You have to remember, the communities themselves only cover a small part of the entire land mass which makes up Judea and Samaria, while sovereignty will put Israel in control over the whole area,” they said.

“With the threat of a Palestinian state looming, now more than ever we must apply sovereignty to send the message that this is ours forever.  Applying sovereignty will once and for all say ‘we are here to stay in our ancestral homeland’ and will send a clear message to those barbarians who perpetrated the Oct. 7 massacre that they have failed,” they told JNS. 

Smotrich told Knesset Television on Monday that his party would work to advance legislation toward extending Israeli sovereignty to Judea and Samaria.

“After Oct. 7, a decisive majority of the citizens of Israel are vehemently opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state because they understand that, God forbid, [the result would be] thousands of Nazi terrorists within walking distance or a short drive from Israel’s major population centers,” he said. “We will never allow Kfar Saba to become Kfar Aza.”

“We will impose sovereignty over Judea and Samaria. I intend to establish facts on the ground today, and advance legislation towards that result,”  he said.

The finance minister went on to say that he would ensure that Judea and Samaria are an inseparable part of the State of Israel and thereby remove the “terrible danger” of a Palestinian state. Such a state would be an “Iranian outpost” minutes from Tel Aviv, threatening Israel’s existence, he said.

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