The Knesset passed a law requiring the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division to be managed more transparently early Thursday morning, after a debate that lasted through the night.
The law, proposed by MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi), establishes the legal status of the WZO Settlement Division, which helps found and develop rural settlements at the government’s orders, in the Golan Heights, Binyamin and Judean Hills, Jordan Valley, Hebron Hills, the Galilee and the Negev. The law states that the government can exercise its authority over the division, but may not turn it into a governmental body.
Agreements signed between government offices and the Settlement Division will be supervised according to the principles of public law, and the Settlement Division’s expenses, income, financial reports, budgetary decisions and implementation, tenders and contracts must all be transparent.
The plenum discussion of the bill began Wednesday evening, but in an attempt to filibuster, the opposition registered enough speeches against the bill for the debate to last until Friday morning. The opposition was expected to withdraw many of the speeches, but would not disclose when, as that would ruin all chances of the filibuster’s success.
It was agreed that the vote would not take place between 9 p.m. and midnight Wednesday, allowing many MKs, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to attend Negev, Galilee and Periphery Minister Arye Deri’s daughter’s Sheva Brachot celebration.
During the discussion, Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi) said the bill is accomplishing something that should have been done when the State of Israel was established.
“The Settlement Division’s activities are welcome, but for 67 years of the state’s existence, the legal system between the government and the body that is the WZO’s executive arm, which acts for the government and its ministries, was not regulated,” he explained.
MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) said that the debate may seem technical, but the bill is “meant to fool America” by “giving the Settlement Division authority but not responsibility.”
“I would accept this bill if one sentence was added – that everything that applies to the government also applies to the Settlement Division – but, of course, [the coalition] didn’t accept it,” she added.
MK Osama Sa’adi (Joint List) accused the Settlement Division of “stealing the Palestinian nation’s land and building settlements.”
“Today, many settlers commit acts of terrorism. The solution is to dismantle the settlement enterprise, which is a war crime, and found a Palestinian state,” he posited.
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid said the law will harm West Bank settlements, claiming it is meant to benefit illegal outposts over settlement blocs.
“Ma’aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion and Ariel are the hostages of the illegal outposts,” he said.
The voting took place early Thursday morning, with 53 MKs in favor, 48 opposed and MK Eitan Broshi (Zionist Union) abstaining.
Broshi asked to abstain, in a heated Zionist Union faction meeting Wednesday evening, because the Settlement Division helps kibbutzim, which he was voted in to represent.
“My conscience didn’t allow me to vote against the bill,” he said. “The Settlement Division works in the Negev and Galilee and towns in the line of conflict.
The Settlement Division must act according to good management rules and in full transparency... The argument with the government is about priorities and goals in every area. The Zionist Union must help [agricultural] settlements, while prioritizing the Negev and Galilee and aiming for a diplomatic agreement based on two states for two nations.”
Smotrich called the vote a “victory for Zionism.”
“As someone who grew up on the values of Zionism and settlement, I am very happy to have had the privilege that the first law I passed in the Knesset was this one,” he said.
“Over 100 years of Zionism, the Settlement Division has accompanied the establishment of hundreds of towns in the Galilee, Negev and Judea and Samaria.”
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel said that those who live in the periphery know that the Settlement Division is “their real oxygen.”
“The Labor Party, which made working settlements its flagship, should have promoted the Settlement Division Law, but the requests from local councils in the Gaza border area and other parts of the country did not help, and Zionist Union voted against developing