Far-right Israeli minister sets out plan to prevent West Bank from becoming part of a Palestinian state

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has spoken about preventing the occupied West Bank from becoming a part of an independent Palestinian state, according to leaked audio of a speech he gave earlier this month.

Smotrich, a leading far right member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet, said the way to prevent a Palestinian state that would endanger the state of Israel was to develop Jewish settlements. “The goal is to change the DNA of the system for many, many years,” he told the gathering.

The transcript and audio of the speech were provided to CNN by the Israeli NGO Peace Now, which had a representative in the room during the speech.

Israel’s Supreme Court defines Israeli control over the West Bank as a temporary military occupation rather than the annexation of territory under a civilian administration. But Smotrich, who lives in a settlement himself, has opposed the creation of an independent Palestinian state. He has also long advocated for the expansion of Jewish settlements that are considered illegal under international law and by much of the international community.

Smotrich’s office confirmed Friday that the speech had taken place. In a press release earlier this month, his office said Smotrich would be attending an event about Jewish settlement - and the goal was “preventing a terrorist state in the heart of the State of Israel.”

The press release noted “the structural changes that the Minister is leading in the Ministry of Defense and the Settlement Directorate that he established in the Ministry.”

Smotrich was quoted then as saying: “After October 7th it is a consensus in Israeli society. The way is to develop settlements and we are focusing on doing broad structural processes that will result in the State of Israel developing settlements in an orderly manner.”

In the audio, Smotrich said that a separate civilian system had been created for the occupied West Bank, even as the Defense Ministry remained in control of the area.

“We created a separate civilian system, there is an office within the Ministry of Defense. There is a minister there. There is an administration there, it’s like an office, there is a CEO for the administration, he is accepted as the CEO of a government office, there is a whole system within the administration,” Smotrich said.

As more countries call for an independent Palestinian state, Smotrich spoke about the extensive planning powers of the minister and administration and the prospect of developing mass transit and road systems in the West Bank over the next few years to encourage settlement there.

“This is a revolution: this is how you bring a million people to Judea and Samaria,” Smotrich said, using the term by which many Israelis describe the occupied territory.

In his half-hour speech, Smotrich said he was able “to convince the Prime Minister”, Benjamin Netanyahu, about creating a civilian administration in the West Bank.

“I will say a good word about him because, to his credit, it will be said that as soon as he understood the event, he was fully with us.”

CNN is reaching out to the Prime Minister’s Office for a response. The official position of the government is that the status of the West Bank is subject to future negotiations.

Israel has expanded settlements in the occupied West Bank over decades despite signing a series of peace agreements with the Palestinians in the 1990s, called the Oslo Accords, that envisaged the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza as part of a negotiated resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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