The Jewish neighborhood of Neveh Ya’acov with the settlement of Psagot in the background.
(photo credit: ANAV SILVERMAN)
The Finance Committee has approved a bill that would boost settlement business and make it easier to construct hotels and field schools in Gush Etzion and other West Bank areas outside of Jerusalem.
The Encouragement of Capital Investment legislation has already passed the Knesset in a first reading, and returns to the Knesset for a second and third reading before it becomes law.
But right-wing lawmakers and settlers already celebrated its passage on Monday, grateful that it now granted them the same tax breaks and incentives that business receive for projects within the Green Line.
This includes tourism and hotel projects in the area of the West Bank just outside of Jerusalem.
Settler business owners could not previously benefit from those tax breaks because the law granting such incentives did not apply to Judea and Samaria.
There are no hotels in Judea and Samaria, but there is an active industry of field schools and small cottages for rent, known as tzimmers.
The head of the Gush Etzion Field School, Yaron Rosenthal, called it an “historic amendment” that would give a 20 percent return to owners of tourism and hotel projects as well as event halls.
Meretz party head MK Zehava Gal- On attacked the new bill as tantamount to “creeping annexation,” because it was the application of an Israeli law onto the West Bank, which is under Israeli military and civilian rule.
Industrial zones in Area C of the West Bank will now have the same legal status as those within the Green Line, Gal-On said, and that the legislation “gives a stamp of authenticity to the annexation of Judea and Samaria.”
Gal-On added that it was also another example of disproportionate government expenditure for settlers and settlements, who already receive more than their fair share of tax-payer funds. She cited as an example the Education Ministry, which provides twice as much funding to educate a child over the Green Line than it does within it.
MK Mickey Levy (Yesh Atid) said he supported the rights of Israeli citizens to benefit from the Capital Investment Encouragement Law, but that they should do so by investing in factories inside the Green Line or by transferring their businesses there.
“What is happening here essentially is that the government is giving money to business that will produce products that will later be boycotted in Europe, so what have we achieved exactly?” he asked.
It’s as if “one hand does not know what the other hand is doing” in this government, Levy said. “I oppose this law.”
Levy added that if this was the general direction in which the government was headed, it might as well just annex Judea and Samaria, a move which would eliminate any legal issues on any matter.
MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi), who supports the bill, said that since the residents of Judea and Samaria already pay taxes, they should also receive the same financial benefits as other taxpayers.
Justice Ministry representative Edna Harrel defended the Finance Committee, saying the bill had not contributed to the creeping annexation of Judea and Samaria nor had they provided its citizens with extra benefits. Rather, she said, the legislation simply allows the government to address a situation of inequality, and allow Israeli citizens living on both sides of the Green Line to receive the same tax benefits.
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