Settlement-building information should not be made public, because such data are then used as the basis for petitions to the High Court of Justice, Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee chairman David Rotem (Yisrael Beyetenu) said Thursday.
“I know that the settlement division deals with building over the Green Line, what you call the “occupied territories,” and I want to prevent the possibility that you can use the information to petition the High Court of Justice,” Rotem told left-wing lawmakers during a Knesset Law Committee debate.
Eight lawmakers have since asked that Rotem recuse himself from debates on matters relating to the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division because of a conflict of interest.
They sent a letter on the matter to the Knesset’s legal adviser and the Knesset’s Ethics Committee, in which they charged he had once worked for the division as its attorney and that as a result there is a conflict of interest.
They also took issue with his opposition to making settlement data public at Thursday’s meeting of the Knesset’s Law Committee.
The committee had been scheduled to debate a request by MK Zehava Gal-On, who heads the Meretz Party, and MK Elazar Stern (Hatenua) to revisit the issue of imposing the Freedom of Information Act on the settlement division. The government contracts the division to execute building projects in West Bank settlements, the Negev, and the Galilee.
At present, the Freedom of Information Act does not apply to the division, because is it is part of the World Zionist Organization, which is a private entity.
However, Gal-On, with the support of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, has argued that the act should apply, because the settlement division uses taxpayers’ money for the building projects.
Last month the Law Committee rejected the request, but agreed to debate reopening the matter at Thursday’s meeting.
On Thursday, however, Rotem opened the debate but then decided to delay a vote on whether to revisit the issue until after Passover, because the Bayit Yehudi Party was not able to confer with its faction head during the meeting.
“What do you have to hide?” MK Ahmed Tibi (UAL-Ta’al) asked Rotem at the Law Committee meeting. “Just admit there is no democracy here,” said Tibi.
“There is only democracy here,” said Rotem.
Stern said he supports settlement construction, but does not understand why there should be a “lack of transparency about it.” He added, “I”m not ashamed of what I do.”
“Your behavior proves that what is happening there is not kosher,” Stern told Rotem.
In the midst of the vocal protests that erupted at the meeting, Gal-On demanded that Rotem recuse himself from debates on the settlement division because of his prior legal work for them.
Rotem said he had represented the division against the 2005 government-sponsored report on West Bank outposts, authored by attorney Talia Sasson, and added that he would not recuse himself.
“But then you cannot head the committee during this debate,” said Tibi.
Rotem later issued a statement to the press in which he said he had not worked for the settlement division, but had been asked by it only to issue an advisory opinion on the Sasson report.