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Evyatar, in the northern West Bank, is one of five settlement outposts that Israel recently decided to grant legal status. Settlements in the territory are considered illegal under international law. Credit…Sergey Ponomarev for the New York Times

Amid rising tensions between Jewish settlers and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and new moves by the Israeli government to expand its control over the territory, an Israeli general on Monday sharply criticized government policies there and condemned growing “nationalist crimes” by Jewish settlers.

Major General Yehuda Fuks, the outgoing head of Israel’s Central Command, which is responsible for the country’s military forces in the West Bank, said at a farewell ceremony that a “strong and effective” Palestinian Authority would be in Israel’s security interests.

The general’s statement appeared to be a criticism of Israel’s far-right finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, who is also a settler and is undermining the government by withholding taxes that Israel collects on its behalf in the roughly 40 percent of the West Bank it administers.

General Fuks also expressed frustration at the rise in settler violence in the West Bank, home to some 2.7 million Palestinians and a Jewish settler population that has grown to more than 500,000. He said an extremist minority of violent settlers was undermining Israel’s international reputation and sowing fear among Palestinians. “To me, that’s not Judaism,” he said. “At least not what I was raised on in my parents’ house. That’s not the Torah way.”

Israel seized control of the West Bank from Jordan in 1967 in a war with three Arab states, and since then Israeli civilians have settled there with the government’s tacit and explicit approval, living under Israeli civil law while their Palestinian neighbors are subject to Israeli military law.

The international community largely considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal, and many of them are illegal under Israeli law but are tolerated by the government. Many outposts that were initially illegal under Israeli law have since been legalized by the government, and Palestinians have long argued that they are a sprawling annexation that turns land needed for any independent Palestinian state into an ungovernable patchwork.

Last year, The United Nations reported that attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank have increased in the weeks following the October 7 attacks that sparked the Gaza war between Israel and Hamas, with at least 115 people killed, more than 2,000 injured and nearly 1,000 others forced to flee their homes, citing violence and intimidation by Israeli forces and settlers.

General Fuks said that terrorizing Palestinians living alongside Jews was “a dangerous mistake” and that violence by Jewish settlers threatened Israel’s security.

But Mr Smotrich has been vocal about wanting Israel to claim sovereignty over the entire West Bank. Last month, he reached an agreement with ministers to free up some money was withheld from the Palestinian Authority in exchange for the legalization of five Jewish outposts, and last week the Treasury released about $136 million.

Mr Smotrich said in a social media post that day that he was working with planning authorities to approve more 5,000 additional housing units in the West Bank. “We are building a good country and preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state,” he said.

Last month, an Israeli ministry approved the largest land seizure in the West Bank since the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians, taking up about five square miles in the Jordan Valley, according to Peace Now, an Israeli group that monitors settler activity. Israel has has captured about nine square miles of territory this year.making 2024 the peak year for allocations, Peace Now said.

While the settlers and pastors appear defiant, their activities have been a source of tension for Israel with other countries, including its ally the United States, at a time when the country is increasingly isolated internationally over the war in Gaza.

“Settlements continue to be counterproductive to the two-state solution,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby said in a briefing with reporters on Monday. “We do not support that.”

Johnatan Reiss Contribute report.


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