Loans of almost half a billion shekels ($132 million) owed to the World Zionist Organization by communities in the Golan Heights and Jewish settlements in the West Bank have reportedly been largely forgiven by the government in recent years.
The amount owed on the long-term loans — handed out by the organization’s Settlement Division — has been steadily shrinking thanks to a government debt forgiveness program, Israeli daily Haaretz said Thursday. The Settlement Division itself is funded by the government.
According to the newspaper, the Finance Ministry concluded in the government’s annual fiscal report that the “collection over the years of loans given through the Settlement Division is negligible or non-existent.”
It also said the conditions for the repayment of loans designated for settlement construction “have not yet been determined.”
In 2011, prior to introduction of the debt forgiveness policy, the amount owed by individuals and settlement or community associations stood at NIS 588 million ($155 million), the report said, and it has steadily decreased ever since, to only NIS 35 million ($9 million).
While a small part of the debt has been repaid in recent years, a senior official in the Settlement Division told Haaretz that the sharp decrease is primarily due to the government’s debt forgiveness program.
The World Zionist Organization, an international body founded more than a century ago, promotes Jewish education and immigration to Israel. It serves as an umbrella group for a host of international Jewish groups and youth movements.
For nearly half a century, its Settlement Division has played a key role in managing land and infrastructure. The group’s stated aim is to create and support rural communities in the West Bank, Golan Heights and Israel.
According to 2014 budget figures, public funding for the division increased more than eightfold last year, including a last-minute spending spree advanced by pro-settlement lawmakers just days after the collapse of Israel’s previous government in December.