The Knesset Law Committee on Thursday is set to debate requiring the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division to ensure that its budgetary information, including for West Bank building projects, is made public under the Freedom of Information Law.
Two weeks ago in a meeting with only two members present, the committee rejected a request by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni to apply the Freedom of Information Law to the Settlement Division.
On Sunday, it agreed to revisit the issue at the request of Meretz Party leader MK Zahava Gal-On, who has been strongly advocating for making the division’s funding information public.
At present it is excluded from the law, because the division is technically part of the WZO, which is a non-governmental agency. However, since 1967 it has been contracted by the government to assist with West Bank settlement development. Its duties were expanded a decade ago to include the Negev and the Galilee.
Lawmakers such as Livni and Gal-On have argued that, although the WZO is a private entity, its settlement division is contracted by the government, it has a budget that is made up of taxpayers’ money, and it is authorized by the Knesset.
On Sunday, for example, the Finance Committee approved a transfer of NIS 177 million to the division.
“The time has come to stop the political games and shady deals,” Livni said upon hearing of the transfer. “The Israeli public has a basic democratic right to know what the Settlement Division does with its money. I intend to fight for the principles of freedom and transparency.”
The Finance Committee on Sunday published a partial list of the spending funds going to the Negev and the Galilee as well as to West Bank settlement development in the Jordan Valley, Beit El, and the south Hebron Hills.
Finance Committee chairman Nissim Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi) said that the NIS 177 million had already been approved for the 2013 budget but had not been used by the Settlement Division. The vote, he said, was simply a technical transfer into the 2014 budgets of money that had already been debated and approved the year before.
Initially, Yesh Atid parliamentarians on the committee had blocked the transfer of the NIS 177 million, but half an hour before the meeting they withdrew their objections.
MK Stav Shafir (Labor) accused the Yesh Atid politicians of caving in to Bayit Yehudi demands.
MK Merav Michaeli said that Yesh Atid had lent a hand to building in West Bank settlements at the expense of affordable housing for the middle class within the pre-June 1967 lines.
“Yesh Atid has handed [Economic Minister Naftali] Bennett and [Housing and Construction Minister] Uri Ariel the middle class on a silver platter,” Michaeli charged.
Separately, the Finance Committee also approved NIS 32 million for Gaza evacuees.