Smotrich continues to weaken PA, bolster Hamas in West Bank

Opinion: Security officials warn of violence as unemployment of Palestinians spikes to 33%, commerce and tax revenues drop while finance minister seeks to dissolve the PA and prevent it from a role in post-war Gaza 

It has been nearly eight months since the conception that called for bolstering Hamas and weakening the Palestinian Authority, collapsed, on October 7 but the government continues to push the same policy, only now it is focusing on the West Bank.
The direct result of the ministers' actions, particularly of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, is that Hamas and other pro-Iran groups have grown in strength in the major cities in the area, while the PA has continued to weaken.
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חצי חצי סמוטריץ אבו מאזן
חצי חצי סמוטריץ אבו מאזן
Mahmoud Abbas, Bezalel Smortrich
(Photo: AP, Alex Kolomoisky )
"Smotrich is using his position in the Defense Ministry and his role as finance minister, to advance a policy that could ultimately result in the outbreak of violence," officials told Ynet. "We are stepping into an abyss with our eyes open," they said.
Other officials warned that the economic measures imposed by Smotrich mostly impact officials in the PA and in its security services who are currently receiving only 40% of their pay.
"One can understand a member of the Palestinian security forces who is losing his family's income and seeks to replace it by other means. In recent months we have seen Iran and Hamas attempt to flood the region with weapons and money so there are options available," they said.
According to the officials, the PA has thwarted dozens of terror attacks against Israeli targets in the months since the war began, including uncovering two car bombs in the northern West Bank.
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Bezalel Smotrich
(Photo: Alex Kolomoisky )
"It is in Israel's interest to protect the moderates and prevent extremists from taking control of the area. It is inconceivable that after the colossal failures in October, Israel's policy would be to bolster Hamas and weaken the PA."
Since the start of the war, Palestinian workers have been banned from entering Israel, resulting in a sector of the population, numbering 150,000, which had been an engine of the local economy, now out of work. Unemployment figures for the West Bank sky rocketed to 33%
Israel allows only 8,000 Palestinians employed in critical jobs, to enter its borders and another 18,000 to work in the West Bank settlements. Israel therefore has placed the settlements over the requirements for working hands inside Israel.
The Shin Bet and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) have drawn up a plan for a gradual return of Palestinians to work but officials claim ministers are not even willing to consider the plan.
Commerce has also seen a 30% drop, yielding less taxes and after Smotrich decided earlier this year, to stop transferring all of the tax revenues collected by Israel, to Ramallah, which are funds belonging to the PA, by virtue of the Oslo Accords and which constitute 70% of its budget. The income has been reduced by three-quarters of what it was before the war. Smotrich now decided to hold all tax revenue funds entirely, citing the Palestinians efforts to sanction Israel in international courts.
Repercussions are already evident, a security official said. "The PA is unable to pay for its security forces' lunch." This is not the withholding of funds in the amount given as stipends to terrorists, which has been in effect for a long time. Even before the war Smotrich cut the amount of funds transferred to offset funding of electricity and water in Gaza, claiming the money went to Hamas, at the same time that Israel urged Qatar to provide Hamas with money to fund the Strip.
Now Smotrich aims not only to bring down the PA but to conquer the remaining West Bank land. there are 'agricultural farms,' established by settlers all over the area, and he has also expressed his desire to establish Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip after his control over the West Bank is solidified.
"If the PA is bankcrupt and dissolved, it would not be able to assume a governing role in post war Gaza and would become irrelevant," the official said. "We understand the limitations of the PA's power and its corruption but what is the alternative? Is it an Israeli occupation of the West Bank cities and the strengthening of Hamas and Iran?"
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עימותים בקרוואת בני חסן
עימותים בקרוואת בני חסן
Settlers clash with Palestinians in the West Bank
At the same time the officials point to a dramatic increase in Jewish nationalist terrorism. "There is no one trying to stop this. Those Jewish elements now have a strong lobby in the government and the Knesset.
Smotrich's office said in response to Ynet's request for comment that had his position been accepted, Israel would today not have had to fight for its independence. "The Palestinian Authority promotes terror, pays for terror and acts against Israel in the international arena. Bolstering the PA is wrong and a danger to Israel."
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