Now that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has passed his budget through the Knesset, giving him some much-desired political breathing space, his priorities—or, at least, the priorities of his coalition partners—are being put into action. Unsurprisingly to anyone who is even vaguely familiar with the broad contours of Israeli politics, those priorities are disproportionately focused on hardening Israel’s presence inside the West Bank.

Those priorities were in full view over the weekend, when without IDF intervention and with the tacit approval of the Israeli government, the illegal Homesh yeshiva was relocated from its longstanding temporary encampment to a new permanent home a few hundred yards away. Homesh was one of the four West Bank settlements evacuated by Israel as part of the 2005 disengagement, which stipulated that it was illegal for Israeli civilians to be in the withdrawn territory that sits between Jenin and Nablus. The Homesh yeshiva has nonetheless existed on the site in tents set up on privately owned Palestinian land for over 15 years. The Knesset’s repeal in March of the part of the disengagement law applying to the West Bank set the process in motion for Israelis to legally return to Homesh, but in order for the yeshiva to be legalized, it still needed to go through the standard building approval and permitting process. Instead, settler leaders and activists put up prefabricated structures on the part of Homesh that is located on state land on Sunday night and early Monday morning, affixed a mezuzah to the door, and despite the new building’s illegal status proclaimed the start of a new Israeli policy that starts in Homesh but would continue on through the other three evacuated settlements.

The water tower of the evacuated Homesh settlement by Pinilev, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 (License linked to image)

Turning a blind eye to illegal Israeli construction is not new, either for this Israeli government or previous Israeli governments, and this move was practically inevitable once the disengagement law was repealed. Yet Netanyahu’s and Defense Minister Yoav Galant’s silent acquiescence to the Homesh yeshiva’s new permanent digs despite overwhelming American and European opposition is a blazingly loud statement, driven in part by the optics tied to reversing the disengagement, in part by the U.S. contention that this violates explicit understandings dating back to the George W. Bush administration, and in part by the fact that most of Homesh is on private Palestinian land and many attacks on Palestinians originate from the site. It reflects the government’s lack of desire to do anything beyond cosmetic distractions to reduce tensions with Palestinians in the West Bank, and its intentions to place more and more Israelis in spots that will do the opposite while adding to Israel’s security burden and its diplomatic headaches.

While Homesh is the tip of the iceberg, the full iceberg can be seen by anyone willing to dive below the surface of the government’s newly passed budget. The coalition agreements that Likud signed with Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism committed to pumping more money into settlements and the infrastructure supporting them, and the budget fulfills those pledges. The most obvious sign is not in the realm of settlements themselves, but in the government’s transportation budget, 25% of which is dedicated to the West Bank despite containing only 5% of Israel’s citizens. While it is absolutely true that upgrading roads in the West Bank benefits both Israelis and Palestinians, particularly so for Route 60 as the main north-south corridor in the territory that connects the large Palestinian population centers, many of the funds are designed to enable Israelis to bypass Palestinians. This includes the continued construction of the Huwara bypass road, designed to benefit residents of four settlements containing approximately 8,000 people at a cost of $220 million, along with new bypass roads between Migron and Qalandia, a new road going to Kedumim (Smotrich’s hometown), a new road going to Alfei Menashe, and an expanded road between Ariel and the Tapuach junction, a frequent site of terrorist attacks. What is notable about these projects is that they are not in large Israeli settlements or in settlements along the Green Line, but in more sparsely populated spots deep inside the West Bank that cause the most friction with Palestinian residents and that are purposely placed where they are in order to disrupt Palestinian contiguity and make a future negotiated agreement maximally difficult to implement.

The settlement of Kedumim by Yoram Shorek, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (License linked to image)

The budget’s vision for the West Bank is not limited to roads. There is $107 million for the World Zionist Organization’s Settlements Division, which is in charge of funding rural development across Israel and the West Bank but in the past has allocated 75% of its funding to the latter. There is $121 million in development funds for local municipalities that can—and almost certainly will—be used for illegal outposts. There is $4 billion in discretionary coalition funds, Religious Zionism’s portion of which will end up being spent entirely in the West Bank. And this is before getting to the regular parts of the budget devoted to West Bank regional councils and municipalities, and the non-public security portion of the budget that disproportionately goes to the West Bank in light of IDF resource and troop deployments.

None of this spending points to a government that is looking to extricate itself from much of the West Bank, or even to preserve the (mythical and illusory) status quo in order to keep open the possibility of a two-state outcome. It points to a government that is spending as much as it can in order to race toward a very different end game, one in which Israel controls the territory forever without any real autonomy for Palestinians, let alone statehood or citizenship. It is not the one-state reality that some are calling to recognize and turn into a formal policy that moves away from two states in order to give Palestinians equal rights, but a one-state reality in line with Smotrich’s 2017 vision outlining space for only Jewish self-determination west of the Jordan River. It is a vision that makes a secure, democratic, Jewish state impossible to sustain.

Bezalel Smotrich at an election celebration in March 2021 by Viki4800, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 (License linked to image)

The self-defeating nature of pumping more money into the West Bank in order to double the settler population in the next few years, as Smotrich has outlined, is even starker in light of Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s remarks at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, where he called for appointing new Supreme Court justices who understand why Jews “are not prepared to live with Arabs.” If there is a better illustration of the reckless conduct of this government’s policies, where one hand demands to limit interaction between Jews and Arabs in mixed cities inside of Israel while the other hand races to force as much high-tension interaction as possible between Jews and Arabs inside the West Bank, one will be hard pressed to find it. Yet it is clear from the new budget that ramping up friction, tension, and ultimately violence in order to hang on to every last inch of the West Bank is not only worth the cost in this government’s eyes, but a priority of national importance.