The cabinet moved on Sunday to curtail Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s authority
over certain aspects of settlement development as well as some parts of the
Pending Knesset approval, the cabinet agreed to relocate
the World Zionist Organization’s Rural Settlement Division from the Agriculture
Ministry to the Prime Minister’s Office, in a move widely viewed as an effort to
limit Barak’s influence over settlement development in the West
Barak: 50-50 chance of new peace talks before Sept.
2011: No housing starts in 2 largest W. Bank settlements
Once the Knesset approves the move, the division would no longer
need Barak’s permission to move ahead with government- approved infrastructure,
agriculture and other development projects. The defense minister, however,
retains his authority over the construction of buildings.
was part of the coalition’s agreement with the newly formed Independence Party, and was first
announced in January. It was done at the request of Foreign Minister Avigdor
Lieberman (Israel Beiteinu).
Discussions to move the Rural Settlement
Division, however, had begun around the time of the 10-month moratorium on new
settlement construction, when Barak was still the head of the Labor
Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Shalom Simhon (Independence)
told Israel Radio that no mention had been made at the time the agreement was
reached of stripping Barak of any powers.
Yuli Edelstein (Likud), the
minister of public diplomacy and Diaspora affairs, however, told The Jerusalem
Post that it had always been clear that Barak would lose his authority over the
division once it was lodged in the Prime Minister’s Office.
the cabinet agreed that Barak would no longer have budgetary responsibility for
units in the Prime Minister’s Office related to the security of the state and
Pending Knesset approval, that responsibility now lies with
the Prime Minister’s Office.
Technically, the Settlement Division is part
of a non-governmental agency, the World Zionist Organization. It has been
contracted since 1967 to implement government-funded projects in the West Bank,
and after the Olso Accords, in Area C (under full Israeli control) of the West
Bank. It was always housed within the Prime Minister’s Office.
last decade, steps have been taken to change the division’s mission and focus.
More than seven years ago, the Settlement Division was given responsibility for
developing infrastructures in the Negev and the Galilee. Its budget is now split
between the Negev, the Galilee and Area C.
In 2007, the division was
moved from the Prime Minister’s Office to the then Labor-led Agriculture
Ministry (Simhon was minister), when Ehud Olmert was prime minister.
the time, it was believed that the shift to a Labor-led ministry would help
shift the division’s focus from the West Bank to the Negev and the
In a cabinet decision from July 2009 dealing with the activities
of this division, it was decided that all of its activities in Judea and
Samaria, including in the Jordan Valley, would first have to be brought to both
the prime minister and the defense minister for approval.
decision, however, reduces the authority given to the defense minister and
states instead that all activities in these areas need to be done “in
coordination” with the defense minister, but do not need his
Barak is abroad and did not attend Sunday’s cabinet meeting,
and his efforts to push off discussion on the matter until he returns were
Simhon, who was angry that the Prime Minister’s Office
refused Barak’s request, said that the division was most effective when in the
Simhon said Barak was not upset by the move,
because as the defense minister he was still the “sovereign power” in the West
The head of the settlement division, Danny Kritchman, told the
Post, however, that the move was positive, because the bureaucracy in the
Agriculture Ministry had hampered its work. “It was impossible,” he
In the Prime Minister’s Office, the division would work with the
director-general, Kritchman said.
He said that all the division’s
projects in the West Bank were government-approved and on state land. Kritchman
added that the division was not involved with the development of the
Dani Dayan, chairman of the Council of Jewish
Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, said the move to the Prime
Minister’s Office had very few practical implications.
Dayan is among
those who, in an effort to advance thousands of stalled construction housing
units, would like to see Barak stripped of his powers to approve settlement
“The decision today does not change the situation,” he
But MK Danny Danon (Likud) said he was hopeful that it was the
first step toward limiting Barak’s powers with regard to settlement