Construction in a Leshem, a new neighborhood of the Alei Zahav settlement.
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
The Finance Committee is prepared to vote this week, possibly as early as Monday, on a new list of periphery communities that qualify for tax breaks. The list excludes most West Bank settlements, as well as some Israeli cities, such as Ma’alot and Nahariya, which had previously enjoyed the tax benefits.
A meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the heads of coalition on Sunday affirmed the list that was prepared by Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni. The number of periphery towns and cities to receive tax breaks will increase from 192 to 407, based on new eligibility criteria. The budget for the expanded list will go up from NIS 850 million to NIS 1.2 billion.
Kiryat Arba and settlements in the Har Hebron region of the West Bank are among 28 Judea and Samaria communities included in the slate of periphery towns to receive a six percent tax break, because they meet the same criteria as the other municipalities.
On Sunday, the coalition party heads added the Jewish community of Hebron to the list.
MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi) called last week for 60 settlements under high security risk to be given tax benefits, saying that the Prime Minister’s Office and Finance Ministry agreed to do so, but Knesset Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni (UTJ) was adamantly opposed, saying it would be too costly, and his position was accepted on Sunday.
Instead, the coalition party leaders agreed to give the settlements under risk security grants.
Smotrich said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “trampling settlements in Judea and Samaria” and called on his party leader, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, not to accept the outcome. “This is another way that Netanyahu is harming settlements. In the last two years, Bibi hasn’t allowed planning or construction, and now he is excluding them from tax benefits,” Smotrich stated.
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Deputy Housing Minister Jackie Levy, however, was satisfied with the decision, and thanked Netanyahu, Finance Minister Kahlon, Gafni and government liaison to the Knesset Tourism Minister Yariv Levin for “standing up to pressure and fulfilling their promise to those fighting the just battle for residents of the periphery, which bore fruit.”
Still, towns in the periphery whose benefits were slashed lamented the decision, and some threatened to go on strike.
Nahariya Mayor Jacky Sabag said that the towns whose benefits were cut will go on strike on Wednesday, and that he and Ma’alot Mayor Shlomo Bohbot are working on a plan to fight the changes.
According to Sabag, many people decide to live in the periphery because of the tax break.
“Nahariya is the biggest city in the [Western Galilee] region and it provides work to many residents and employers,” he stated. “If the percentages of the benefit are reduced, it will be a serious blow that we cannot absorb.”
Acre mayor Shimon Lankri wrote a letter to Netanyahu and Kahlon demanding that his town continue to receive tax benefits.
The new criteria “can cause great damage to the continued development of the city and will cause people to leave,” he wrote. “In the name of the residents of the city of Acre, I ask you to oppose the new outline, examine the map of beneficiaries in a measured, responsible way and leave the tax benefits the way they are today.”
MK Yoel Hasson (Zionist Union) said that the Likud gave into religious right-wing extremists.
“Netanyahu lied to periphery residents. 10,565 residents of Nahariya voted for the Likud in the last election. Not a year has passed since Likud MKs went to get votes from the periphery, and today they’re being thrown in the trash in favor of the true guests of honor in the Likud, residents of isolated settlements,” Hasson stated.
MK Esawi Frej (Meretz) wondered “how twisted can a government’s priorities be if it gives tax benefits to Jewish ‘provocateurs’ in Hebron and takes them away from Nahariya and Ma’alot.”
According to Frej, the decisions were made “under threats from Smotriches” and shows that those who threaten end up benefiting.
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