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Netanyahu to transfer full power over Civil Administration to Smotrich

The Defense Ministry body's responsibilities include approving construction in Area C of Judea and Samaria.

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Religious Zionism Party head Bezalel Smotrich at the swearing-in of the 25th Knesset in Jerusalem, Nov. 15, 2022. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Religious Zionism Party head Bezalel Smotrich at the swearing-in of the 25th Knesset in Jerusalem, Nov. 15, 2022. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich on Wednesday to immediately transfer to him power over the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration, in accordance with their parties’ coalition agreement.

Netanyahu phoned Smotrich after the latter slammed the Civil Administration for ordering the razing earlier Wednesday of a Jewish-owned olive grove and orchard in Samaria.

The destruction of the property was carried out on the authority of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant despite orders from Smotrich to freeze the demolition.

Smotrich also serves as a minister in the Defense Ministry and has been tasked by Netanyahu with overseeing the Civil Administration, the ministry body responsible for approving construction and handling other bureaucratic matters in Area C of Judea and Samaria.

It comes after Gallant last month overruled Smotrich’s call to halt the razing of Or Chaim, an outpost commemorating Rabbi Haim Druckman, the spiritual leader of the religious Zionism movement, who died on Dec. 25. That decision caused friction between Gallant and Smotrich, who in response had his Religious Zionism Party boycott the following Cabinet meeting.

Smotrich sent a letter to Netanyahu on Wednesday warning him that further delays in transferring to him full authority over the Civil Administration, in accordance with the coalition agreement, could threaten the stability of the government.

“About a month ago, as minister in the Defense Ministry appointed to oversee the Civil Administration, I instructed that the order against Hen Ben-Eliyahu’s [olive grove and orchard] be nullified immediately,” wrote Smotrich. “But much to my surprise, the defense minister brazenly violated the coalition agreement and overruled my decision. Minister Gallant has decided to continue the left-wing policies of former minister Benny Gantz…even though the claims against this orchard were proven in court hearings to be false.”

Smotrich subsequently wrote on Twitter: “Minister Gallant’s denial of the unequivocal coalition agreement and the prime minister’s dragging his feet on the matter are unacceptable and will not be allowed to continue. This is a clause that was clearly central to our agreement and the basis for the existence of a coalition is the existence of coalition agreements.”

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir on Wednesday also appeared to issue a threat to Netanyahu, saying that he “joined the government on the basis of a commitment that it would be completely right-wing, and this policy cannot continue.”

Smotrich vowed on Tuesday to promote unrestrained construction in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and has announced plans to advance the construction of an additional 10,000 homes in Judea and Samaria.

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