Palestinian laborers work at a construction site in a settlement near Jerusalem .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Attorney-General’s Office has said it is opposed to the transfer of NIS 50 million to the Settlement Division.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had promised to give the division those funds as part of his coalition agreement with Bayit Yehudi, which was voted on last week.
Meretz had petitioned the High Court of Justice against the coalition agreement. It claimed the NIS 50 million transfer was illegal.
Meretz also took issue with the creation of a committee of director-generals from different ministries to create a working operation model for the division.
In a response to the High Court, delivered on Thursday, the Attorney- General’s Office said there was no issue with the committee, which could improve relations between the Settlement Division and the government.
But the response, penned by the assistant attorney-general, Omri Epstein, and chief assistant to the State Attorney’s Office, Yonatan Zion Moses, said Meretz was correct in its objection to the transfer.
They cited a February decision from Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein with regard to the Settlement Division, in which he explained that only government funds set aside for specific projects could be given to that body.
The Settlement Division is technically part of the World Zionist Organization, which is a non-governmental agency.
But since 1967, the government has contracted it to execute building and development projects in Judea and Samaria. No private donor funds were involved in these projects.
More than a decade ago, the division was given responsibility for developing infrastructures in the Negev and the Galilee.
In the last year, Meretz, Labor and Hatnua have taken issue with government funding of the Settlement Division because it uses government funds, but its budget is not public.
Since it is a private entity, it does not have the same transparency requirements a government office would with regard to funding, even though it receives money from the government.
Weinstein said in February that the division could no longer receive general funding. Instead it could only be contracted by the government for specific projects with transparent budgets that were approved by the government.
Epstein and Moses in their response said that a general NIS 50m. transfer to the Settlement Division went against Weinstein’s ruling.
For the last four years the Settlement Division was under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office. Based on the coalition agreement with Bayit Yehudi it will now be under the auspices of the Agriculture Ministry, which will be headed by Uri Ariel of Bayit Yehudi.