Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich

Far-right Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich walks with soldiers during a visit to Kibbutz Kfar Aza near Israel's border structure along the Gaza Strip on November 14, 2023.

(Photo: Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP via Getty Images)

Top EU Official Slams Settlement Expansion Funds in Israeli Budget

"This is not self-defense and will not make Israel safer," wrote Josep Borrell, the European Union's foreign affairs chief.

The European Union's foreign affairs chief on Monday said he was "appalled to learn" that Israel's wartime government is preparing to vote on a budget plan that includes money for illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, where settler violence against Palestinians has grown in recent weeks amid Israel's assault on Gaza.

"In the middle of a war, the Israeli gov is poised to commit new funds to build more illegal settlements," Josep Borrell, the E.U.'s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, wrote on social media. "This is not self-defense and will not make Israel safer. The settlements are a grave [international humanitarian law] breach, and they are Israel's greatest security liability."

Borrell was referring to settlement funding included in an end-of-year budget proposal that Israel's war cabinet is expected to approve on Monday. Under the proposed budget, funding would be allocated to West Bank settlement construction as well as to arming "civilian guard squads," according to a summary highlighted by Itay Epshtain of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

"Funds allocated to settlement local and regional councils allow for the purchase of off-road vehicles, body armor, camera-quipped UAVs, and other electronic surveillance equipment, and the employment of 'reconnaissance personnel,'" Epshtain wrote. "This is a militia of Israeli settlers mandated to obstruct humanitarian aid to Palestinians made vulnerable by the establishment and expansions of these very settlements."

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, a far-right supporter of settlement expansion, defended the budget proposal and denied that any of the money would go toward constructing new settlements.

"There is funding for security needs" in the West Bank, Smotrich toldThe Times of Israel, describing Palestinians in the territory as "Nazis."

The budget proposal sparked backlash from inside the Israeli government, with Knesset member and former opposition leader Benny Gantz demanding the removal of all "political payouts," including settlement funding, Reutersreported Monday.

"Under the coalition agreement Netanyahu struck with Smotrich and the heads of other religious and far-right parties after last year's election," the outlet noted, "billions of dollars are due to be set aside for ultra-Orthodox and far-right-wing pro-settler parties."

Middle East Eye reported Monday that leaked details of the budget "revealed an increase in funding for yeshivas by $133 million, as well as allocating $107 million to the National Missions Ministry, which is run by Smotrich's far-right party."

The budget fight comes amid growing alarm over deadly settler violence in the West Bank. Since last month, Israeli forces and settlers have killed more than 130 Palestinians in the West Bank.

"During the first eight months of 2023, settler violence soared to its highest level since the U.N. began recording this data in 2006; three incidents per day on average, up from two in 2022 and one in 2021," Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, wrote last week. "That rate has almost doubled since October 7."

"These abuses are a part of Israeli authorities’ crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution, as documented by Human Rights Watch and other Israeli, Palestinian, and international human rights organizations," wrote Shakir. "The roots of the violence in Israel-Palestine are multiple and run deep; ending the violence requires dismantling the systems of oppression that feed it, including in the West Bank."

Agnes Callamard, secretary-general of Amnesty International, echoed that message on Monday in response to the Israeli government's budget proposal.

"The settlements in the West Bank," she wrote on social media, "are part and parcel of the system of apartheid against Palestinian people, along with unlawful detention, torture, arbitrary killings, forced displacement, etc."

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