Ministers give green light to pump NIS 82 million into settlements

Ministers give green light to pump NIS 82 million into settlements

Opposition incensed as cabinet approves aid package to beef up security, economy over the Green Line; Palestinian negotiator slams plan as ‘slap in the face’ to peace efforts

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a statement to the press in East Jerusalem on March 16, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a statement to the press in East Jerusalem on March 16, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The government on Sunday approved a financial aid package for West Bank settlements of over NIS 82 million ($21 million) because of the “security situation.”

Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the government would push for the large effort aimed at pumping millions into settlements across the West Bank.

“This is a multi-ministry effort aimed at strengthening security, aid small businesses, encourage tourism and more,” Netanyahu said.

According to a report in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, the package includes a NIS 15 million stipend to local authorities in West Bank settlements, NIS 10 million in aid to renovate and improve security at public buildings and infrastructure, NIS 10 million for street lighting, NIS 5.5 million to develop tourism, NIS 6 million for youth programming social and NIS 2 million in small business aid.

“Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria are experiencing a unique daily security situation because of their geographic location and the make up of life in the region,” the cabinet said in a statement after the vote. The eight-month spike in terrorist attacks in the West Bank has had “a variety of effects on life, particularly sociological and psychological effects and economic damage to businesses which require redress and special services.”

Earlier, opposition lawmaker Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Union) called it “absurd” that while regional leaders from southern Israel were protesting the lack of investment in their communities, the government funneled funds into the settlements.

Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni charged Saturday that the Netanyahu government’s national agenda was run by the settlers’ council and reiterated her call for a referendum on a one-state or two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Speaking at a cultural event in Rishon Lezion, Livni said that the “Israeli government does whatever the Yesha Council [the umbrella organization of municipal councils of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and formerly in Gaza] wants; it is a minority that imposes its national agenda on the government.”

Chief Palestinian negotiator to the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Saeb Erekat, slammed the newly earmarked funds as a “slap in the face” to recent international efforts to broker a peace agreement.

“Israel is doing everything possible to sabotage every effort to achieve a just and lasting peace,” he said in a statement released Sunday.

“This is yet another slap in the face of the international community despite several recent international attempts to cover up the Israeli crimes and violations. It is time for the international community to assume its responsibilities toward this extremist government, which openly supports apartheid and stands against the two-state solution,” Erekat said.

The move is also likely to anger the international community, which considers Israel’s West Bank settlements illegal and has called on Netanyahu’s government to halt activity there.

France is pushing for an international peace conference to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table after talks broke down amid mutual recrimination over two years ago. At the end of a confab in Paris earlier this month, participants in the conference expressed alarm “that actions on the ground, in particular continued acts of violence and ongoing settlement activity, are dangerously imperiling the prospects for a two-state solution.”

Neither Israel nor the Palestinians took part in the conference.

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