Lapid condemns West Bank land appropriation

Finance minister also calls for government to incur deficit rather than cut budgets of civilian ministries

Finance Minister Yair Lapid attends the Calcalist conference in Tel Aviv, Tuesday, September 2, 2014 (photo credit: FLASH90)
Finance Minister Yair Lapid attends the Calcalist conference in Tel Aviv, Tuesday, September 2, 2014 (photo credit: FLASH90)

Finance Minister Yair Lapid joined a growing chorus Tuesday decrying the government’s plan to appropriate 988 acres of Palestinian land in the Bethlehem area in the West Bank.

“The announcement, which wasn’t brought to the cabinet, regarding 900 acres of land for building in Gush Ezion, harms the State of Israel,” he said at the 2014 Calcalist Conference in Tel Aviv. “We are after a military operation and facing a complex diplomatic reality. Maintaining the support of the world was already challenging, so why was it so urgent to create another crisis with the United States and the world?”

On Sunday, the IDF’s Civil Administration, the military government in the West Bank, announced that per instructions from Jerusalem, “4,000 dunams at (the settlement of) Gvaot is declared as state land,” and said concerned parties had 45 days to appeal.

Thus far, the US, UK, UN, Egypt, human rights groups, Palestinian officials and Israeli politicians from the left and center have heavily criticized the move, which the IDF said stemmed from political decisions taken after the June killing of three Israeli teenagers snatched from a roadside hitchhiking post nearby, in the Etzion settlement bloc.

Lapid also reiterated that the end of the most recent hostilities in Gaza must lead to the demilitarization of Hamas through a regional initiative.

Addressing looming decisions for the government on how to pay for almost two months of fighting in Gaza, Lapid said that while he understood the need to strengthen security, “our citizens need strengthening too… to achieve both of those aims is a difficult task, but not an impossible one.”

Lapid proposed that the government should incur a higher deficit in order to “support the creation of a strong and growing economy, which creates new jobs, which builds the future of Israel through education, which encourages small and medium sized businesses.”

He reasoned that “we took the difficult measures in the previous budget, so that we can raise the deficit when there are events over which we have no control.”

On Sunday, the cabinet debated a proposal to cut 2 percent from every ministry budget except defense, including nearly NIS 700 million ($195 million) from the Education Ministry, in order to help pay for Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip. The Knesset is scheduled to convene a special session on Thursday to discuss the proposal.

The finance minister acknowledged that “maintaining the budgetary framework at all costs” was an option, but asserted that he was firmly against such a course of action because it would likely entail raising taxes, which he said would further alienate the middle class and hinder economic growth.

“To me, this is not the right option,” he said. “Even before the [Gaza] operation, we felt slower growth in the economy, and the campaign exacerbated the situation. The last thing the Israeli economy needs right now is more taxes and more cuts.”

“Economics is also psychological,” he added. “Today the Israeli middle class feels like the government’s cash cow. Whenever there is a problem, they are milked even more.”

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