What to Know About Israel’s Plan to Legalize 5 West Bank Settlements

Some settlement construction has continued under every Israeli government for decades. As of last year, more than 130 settlements had been built with Israeli government permission since 1967.

More than 100 unauthorized settlement outposts have been erected since the 1990s, and the Israeli authorities are working on legalizing many of them retroactively.

More than 500,000 Israeli settlers now live in the West Bank — not counting more than 200,000 in East Jerusalem — alongside more than 2.7 million Palestinians. Some of the settlements are home to religious Zionists who believe that the area is their biblical birthright. Many secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews also moved there, largely for cheaper housing.

This year, the Israeli government had designated a record amount of land, about 6,000 acres, as eligible for settlement by March, another signal of Mr. Smotrich’s intent to deepen the Israeli hold on the West Bank.

In March, the U.N. human rights chief, Volker Türk, condemned the rapid expansion of settlements after a U.N. report showed a “dramatic increase in the intensity, severity and regularity of Israeli settler and state violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, particularly since 7 October, 2023, which is accelerating Palestinians’ displacement from their land.”

Tor Wennesland, the U.N.’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, on Tuesday said that signs of expedited settlement and legalization of outposts undermine prospects for a two-state solution.

That appears to be the goal for Mr. Smotrich, who adamantly opposes Palestinian statehood. He has said that he will legalize additional outposts in response to any nation that announces recognition of a Palestinian state.

In the last two months, Spain, Ireland, Norway, Slovenia and Armenia have formally recognized an independent Palestinian state. In a social media post on Thursday, Mr. Smotrich indicated that the latest settlement legalization was a response to those decisions.

“We’ll continue developing the settlements to maintain Israel’s security and to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state that would endanger our existence,” he said.

Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox, the head of Israel’s Central Command, which is responsible for the West Bank, has said that since Mr. Smotrich took office the effort to clamp down on illegal settlement construction has dwindled “to the point where it has disappeared.”

Aaron Boxerman contributed reporting.

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