ofra settlement 298 AJ.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In a move seen by many as one more step to shift settlement activity from the West Bank to the Negev and the Galilee, the government on Sunday agreed that Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon would be responsible for the activities of the World Zionist Organization's (WZO) Settlement Division.
Since 1967, the division has assisted development over the Green Line, including housing infrastructure.
While the division is technically part of a nongovernmental agency, the WZO, it has been contracted for decades to execute government-funded projects over the Green Line. No private donor funds were involved in these projects.
Government sources said the move was a technical one and noted that the shift in supervision from the Prime Minister's Office to the Agriculture Ministry was purely technical.
Some 30 percent of the division's budget continues to go toward projects in Judea and Samaria, the sources said.
But a source in the Jewish Agency said the move was part of a shift within the division's leadership from the right to the center that began more than a year ago, when the division's chairman, Avraham Duvdevani, of the WZO's right-wing Mizrahi faction was replaced by Shlomo Gravetz of Kadima. Since Gravetz's death in the fall of 2006, there has been no replacement.
In welcoming the division within its ministry, Simhon issued a press release in which he spoke in general terms of the development work the division would do in the Negev and the Galilee. The division's mandate was already extended to those areas in 2005.
But government sources said that while the Agriculture Ministry would be responsible for the work, all policy decisions would be made by a seven-member ministerial committee that included the prime minister as well as the Finance, Construction and Housing, Tourism, Interior and Environmental Protection Ministries.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.