Israel’s judicial overhaul: Another step toward West Bank annexation

The Israeli government achieved its first victory in a seven-month-long bid to overhaul the country’s judicial system.

On July 24, Israeli lawmakers approved a law that strips the country’s Supreme Court of its power to overrule government decisions that it deems “unreasonable,” or not in keeping with the public interest. Opponents of the legislation, thousands of whom took – and still are – to the streets across the country for consecutive weeks of protests, decried the law’s passage as a death knell for Israeli democracy, given that it subverts one of the sole checks on the government’s authority and will aid Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fight against graft charges, which he denies.

Many experts have warned that the legislation is a step toward the desire and ambition of the ultra-nationalists in Netanyahu’s far-right coalition government to annex some or all of the occupied territories. Although Israel’s most far-right government policies did not change from the previous ones as it is Netanyahu’s sixth time leading government, it’s the further and extreme drifting policy to the extreme right that amounts to de facto annexation of the occupied West Bank, and policies of Jewish supremacy.

Since in office, the Israeli far-right government has been implementing anti-Palestinian and anti-liberal policies with ripple and dangerous effects. The effects of these policies on the 1.6 million Palestinian citizens of Israel and the 5.2 million Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank territories were catastrophic and constituted crimes against humanity according to human rights organizations.

De facto annexation

Israeli ministers have been quite open about their territorial aspirations. Just last month, Itamar Ben-Gvir, the extreme national security minister of Israel residing in a settlement near Hebron, led over 2,000 extremist settlers in a provocative visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem, all under the pretext of observing the so-called “Memorial of the Destruction of the Temple.”

“This place – the most important place for the people of Israel – where we have to return to show our governance,” he said.

This was Ben-Gvir’s third breach of the Muslim compound since the Netanyahu-led government took office in December. In May, Ben-Gvir also stormed the Al-Aqsa compound where he said, “We are the owners of Jerusalem and the entire land of Israel.”

However, the extreme-right Israeli firebrand Ben-Gvir’s first visit to Jerusalem’s sacred Al-Aqsa Mosque compound since becoming a minister was last January. In turn, these visits faced a wave of severe Palestinian, Arab and international condemnation. Besides, Ben-Gvir responded to recent settler attacks on Palestinian villages by encouraging more Israeli settlers to “run for the hilltops, settle them.”

On the other hand, the far-right Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has also been handed broad authority over civilian issues in the West Bank, enabling him to deepen Israel’s presence in the occupied West Bank, increase settlement construction and thwart Palestinian development.

Relatives inspect the rubble of a home of Palestinian man Abdel Fattah Kharousha after it was demolished by Israeli troops, at Askar refugee camp, east of Nablus in the occupied West Bank, Palestine, Aug. 8, 2023. (EPA Photo)
Relatives inspect the rubble of a home of Palestinian man Abdel Fattah Kharousha after it was demolished by Israeli troops, at Askar refugee camp, east of Nablus in the occupied West Bank, Palestine, Aug. 8, 2023. (EPA Photo)

The authorities being transferred to Smotrich – which followed an extended internal coalition battle over the issue – included enforcement powers over illegal construction, authority over planning and construction for settlements and land allocation matters.

The agreement between Smotrich and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant appears to give the ultranationalist leader sweeping powers over the territory and allow him to advance his goal of thwarting Palestinian aspirations for a state in the West Bank by enabling the Israeli population there to substantially expand.

The agreement was denounced by left-wing, anti-settlement organizations, including Yesh Din, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel and Breaking the Silence, which said it amounted to “legal, de jure annexation,” of the West Bank.

Smotrich’s control over the enforcement of illegal construction is likely to lead to a situation in which illegal settlement outposts are not removed as they have been in the past, but illegal Palestinian construction is swiftly demolished.

Smotrich previously wrote that settlement expansion is key to “imposing sovereignty on all Judea and Samaria,”(the biblical term for the West Bank). “In this way,” he added, “we will be able to create a clear and irreversible reality on the ground.”

Smotrich approved the record construction of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank in his first months in power. The latest was 5,000 new settlement homes construction approved last June. Since January, the anti-settlement, Israeli group Peace Now, a left-wing movement, documented the construction of 12,855 settler housing units approved across the West Bank, the largest number it had recorded since it started tracking such developments in 2012.

Bottom of form

The new Israeli government’s settlement expansion priority and approach to the occupied West Bank constitutes the illegal annexation of Palestinian lands.

Annexation or acquisition of territory by use of force or threat is categorically prohibited under international law.

It constitutes an act of aggression, a crime that falls under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, and poses a threat to international peace and security.

Israel has persistently pursued annexation in many parts of the occupied Palestinian territory. Over the last five decades, Israel has confiscated or endorsed the confiscation of Palestinian lands and resources, resulting in over 270 colonies housing 750,000 Israeli settlers.

In one of the many agreements signed before the new Israeli government took office, Netanyahu promised the Religious Zionism party, one of his main coalition partners, to annex the occupied West Bank and the agreement said the Jewish people “have a natural right over the Land of Israel.”

Israeli authorities have already begun imposing stricter restrictions on Palestinian construction and have pushed ahead with home demolitions in Area C, constituting 60% of the occupied West Bank under entire Israeli military and civil control.

Yariv Levin, Israel’s justice minister who also serves as Netanyahu’s deputy, has repeatedly framed the judicial overhaul as a prerequisite for annexation, although the clearest statement of intent came from Netanyahu. In December, he declared that the Jewish people have “an exclusive and indisputable right to all areas of the Land of Israel,” including the West Bank.

This sentiment was echoed in the government’s coalition agreement, which said, “The Prime Minister will lead the formulation and implementation of policy within the framework of which sovereignty will be applied to Judea and Samaria.”

The whole notion of weakening the Supreme Court to move forward with Israeli annexation of the occupied West Bank is gaining pace and arguably will put the final nail in the coffin for the international community-supported “two-state solution.”


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