(photo credit: Courtesy/Regavim)
Legislation to anchor the legal status of the Settlement Division as part of the World Zionist Organization passed a first reading, 61-46, on Monday.
The bill submitted by MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi) would enshrine in law the existing role of the WZO Settlement Division, which helps found and develop rural settlements, at the government’s orders, in the Golan Heights, Binyamin and Judea Hills, Jordan Valley, Hebron Hills, the Galilee and the Negev.
The Zionist Union, especially MK Stav Shaffir, has come out against the Settlement Division in recent years, claiming a lack of transparency that has allowed disproportionate funding for West Bank settlements, citing research on the matter by left-wing think tank Molad.
Smotrich’s bill is a response to the criticism, and it was brought to a first reading right before the state budget in keeping with the coalition agreement with Bayit Yehudi.
The Bayit Yehudi MK said the timing is perfect, because the opposition could see where the money goes in the budget bill.
“For years [the opposition] floated all kinds of slogans of secrecy and political deals, and finally, that’s over,” he said.
Smotrich commended the Settlement Division for helping small towns.
“Is it perfect? No. But to turn it into a scapegoat for a primary campaign?” he asked. “Now we are regulating it in the law and everything will be transparent and you won’t be able to spread hollow slogans.”
Smotrich added: “We will continue implementing our policy to build in all of the Land of Israel, including Judea and Samaria, and we will do so with this tool of the Settlement Division, among others.”
Shaffir said of the bill: “This is what a political deal looks like.”
According to Shaffir, it takes an organization that has an important purpose and lets politicians take advantage of it to bolster their political standing and funnel money through it.
“This is beyond discrimination, this is corruption, and it is all funded using the public’s money,” she said.
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On called the Settlement Division “the government’s arm for building in the territories” and said its budget grows every year.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi) said he supports full transparency for the Settlement Division, adding that its operation is already transparent.
“There are MKs here who are trying to mislead people. The division [of funds] is one-third to the Negev, a third to the Galilee and a third to Judea and Samaria,” he said.
Ariel told Labor MKs (Labor is the main component of the Zionist Union) that they should “return to their roots” and praise the Settlement Division.
“People want to highlight a few things that were not okay, and because of that, destroy the Settlement Division. That won’t happen. The things that were wrong need to be uprooted,” he said. “We will continue building, despite your objections.”