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Israel to Punish West Bank After 3 More Countries Recognize Palestinian State

Israel’s finance minister would build three illegal settlements for every nation that recognizes a Palestinian state.

Israeli Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich speaks to the press during a party meeting on February 5, 2024, in Jerusalem.

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Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich cannot directly punish Spain, Ireland and Norway for recognizing a Palestinian state, so the extremist leader is punishing Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank instead.

The Biden administration on Wednesday criticized Smotrich’s call to expand illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and withhold critical tax revenues that support basic services and salaries for innocent Palestinians, a move that threatens extensive damage to local economies already ravaged by years of occupation, settler violence and the mass incarceration of civilians in Israeli military prisons.

Smotrich’s announcement came as Israeli leaders recalled ambassadors and lashed out at Spain, Ireland and Norway, where leaders announced their intention to recognize Palestinian statehood on Wednesday. The three nations join nine other European countries and dozens more around the globe in recognizing the Palestinian right to self-determination, and more countries could join as the world reacts to the humanitarian catastrophe caused by Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip.

In a letter to Israeli leadership, Smotrich signaled that the decision to withhold tax funding from the Palestinian Authority, which partially governs the occupied West Bank under Israel, is punishment for diplomatic efforts to assert Palestinian rights on the international stage.

In his letter, Smotrich made an “unequivocal demand for severe measures” against the Palestinian Authority for “unilateral actions against Israel,” including the diplomatic pursuit of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations. He also demands the immediate approval of 10,000 housing units for Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which are illegal under international law, with a threat to build three new settlements for every nation that unilaterally recognizes a Palestinian state.

The Palestinian Authority rivals Hamas politically and works with the Israeli state to police the West Bank. Yet Smotrich and others in his extremist movement paint the Palestinian Authority as an enemy while Israeli settlers violently push Palestinians out of their homes in the West Bank. Existing settlements — and systematic expulsion of Palestinians from their land — remain a major roadblock to peace in occupied Palestine.

Human rights groups have documented a shocking spike in violence in the West Bank caused by militant Israeli settlers and the Israel Defense Forces that support them, with more than 500 Palestinians killed in 2023 and hundreds more in 2024. A recent Israeli raid on the Jenin refugee camp left multiple civilians dead, including a teenager on a bicycle and a doctor on his way to work. Thousands more are locked away in Israeli military jails for “crimes” such as joining a protest or throwing rocks.

Raed Jarrar, advocacy director at DAWN, a Middle East policy reform group founded by slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, said it’s not new for Israel to impose collective punishments on Palestinians for their attempt to practice self-determination. However, it’s “outrageous” that such collective punishment is backed by the United States.

“The Biden administration continues to follow the lead of Israel’s extreme right-wing government, even the world is condemning it’s genocide in Gaza,” Jarrar said in an email to Truthout. “With every new country recognizing Palestinians’ right to self-determination, the United States and Israel become more isolated.”

Israel faces mounting international pressure as its attacks on Gaza cause mass civilian displacement and death. Along with senior Hamas leaders who are suspected of planning the October 7 attacks on southern Israeli communities, a prosecutor at the International Criminal Court announced this week that he is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The move was quickly decried by U.S. and Israeli leaders but cheered by defenders of Palestine. However, Smotrich — and his far right coalition running the Israeli government under Netanyahu — opposes the creation of a Palestinian state and talks openly about pushing millions of Palestinians to leave their homeland altogether.

This makes a peace deal between Israel and Palestine virtually impossible — and creates a massive headache for the Biden administration, Israel’s most important arms provider and ally. U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Wednesday that Smotrich is making the wrong move by withholding tax revenues raised from Palestinians from going to the Palestinian leaders who represent them.

“I think it’s wrong on a strategic basis because withholding funds destabilizes the West Bank, it undermines the search for security and prosperity for the Palestinian people, which is in Israel’s interest, and I think it’s wrong to withhold funds that provide basic services to innocent people,” Sullivan told reporters on Wednesday.

Sullivan reiterated that the U.S. supports the creation a Palestinian state, but only after an agreement is reached in negotiations between Palestinian leaders and Israel. An attempt at such talks have not been made since 2009. With war raging in Gaza and Smotrich’s coalition working to starve out the Palestinian Authority while expanding illegal settlements, the sort of peace process the White House likes to talk about has never seemed so out of reach.

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador to Britain, said on Wednesday that international recognition of Palestinian statehood is an inalienable right that is long overdue, “not a gift, favor or reward” from Europe. Zomlot was responding to statements by Israeli leaders who accused Spain, Ireland and Norway of “rewarding” Hamas for its attacks on Israel — but again, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are political rivals.

“Countries, including the US and UK, who argue that this must only happen as a result of negotiations are not only being disingenuous, as they know all too well that Israel rejects the very idea of a Palestinian state, they are obstructing the internationally sanctioned right of self-determination of all peoples,” Zomlot said in an interview on BBC News.

Attempting to paint all Palestinians, civilian or otherwise, as Hamas members and “terrorists” is a long-standing Israeli strategy for dehumanizing victims of state violence and justifying massive civilian causalities in Gaza, where more than 35,000 people have been killed and 80,000 injured. In reality, Palestinians are religiously and ideologically diverse, but Hamas pushed out any political opposition in Gaza years ago.

Muhammad Mustafa, the Palestinian Authority’s new prime minister, said the tax revenues collected by Israel and traditionally handed off to the Palestinian Authority are badly needed to provide even basic services to innocent families.

“We go through an extremely difficult time trying to deliver services to our people on the ground, and they’re already under military action,” Mustafa said a video statement. “And on top of that, we cannot pay them to do the basic things. This is war.”

With human rights observers across the world convinced that Israel is perpetuating genocide in Gaza and ethnic cleansing in the West Bank, it appears Israel’s diplomatic isolation will continue as long as the likes of Smotrich and Netanyahu remain in power.

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