Despite peace talks, cabinet approves preferential status for settlements

Peace talks key official Livni and her Hatnua party abstain.

PALESTINIAN builds a home in Ma’aleh Adumim 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci )
PALESTINIAN builds a home in Ma’aleh Adumim 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci )
Even as Israeli-Palestinian talks are set to begin next week and deal with the borders of a future Palestinian state, the cabinet on Sunday approved a new national priorities map that includes a number of small settlements beyond the security fence.
The national priorities map lists communities eligible for preferential treatment by various ministries, such as smaller classrooms, enhanced budget for cultural programming and additional funds for security needs not faced by other communities.
Government officials stressed that before any West Bank settlement receives the affirmative action it is entitled to under this plan, a second approval will be needed by the “political echelon.”
Among the new settlements on the list are Rehalim and Bruchin in Samaria, and Sansana and Negohot in the South Hebron Hills. Up until a few months ago, these communities were considered illegal settlement outposts. Other settlements new to the list are Hebron, Nofim, Geva Binyamin, Ma’aleh Michmash, and Eshkolot.
At the same time, a number of settlements that had been on the list were removed, including the large haredi community of Betar Illit, the well-established community of Efrat in Gush Etzion, and Kedar near Ma’aleh Adumim.
Of the 600 communities on the list, some 90 are beyond the Green Line, six more than on the national priority list approved in 2012.
The list was drawn up based on a number of different criteria, including the security situation in the community and in the area where it is located, the economic situation in the particular community in relation to other locales, the location of the community and distance from the center of the country, and how close it is to a border.
Hatnua ministers Tzipi Livni and Amir Peretz abstained in the vote on the new list but spoke out against including small, isolated settlements on the list. Yesh Atid ministers Yael German and Yaakov Peri also abstained. Fifteen ministers voted in favor.
Livni, who heads Israel’s negotiation team with the Palestinians, and Economics Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi), whose party champions the settlement enterprise, traded barbed words in the cabinet over the decision.
Livni said she supported giving budgetary preference to narrow the socioeconomic gaps in the country and encourage settlements near the country’s “recognized” borders. But this list, she said, was adopting new criteria that was designed to encourage settlement in the West Bank.
Alluding to the fact that many of the new communities on the list were nationalreligious communities identified with Bayit Yehudi, Livni said that the national priority map was designed to promote national – not party – interests.
Bennett responded that settlement in Judea and Samaria needed to be encouraged.
A statement put out by Hatnua said that the party’s ministers abstained in the vote, rather than voting against, because the list included a number of communities that deserved preferential treatment either for security reasons, such as communities near the border, or due to economic considerations.
“I can understand that you put onto the list settlements in Judea and Samaria that are part of the major settlement blocks, and part of the areas that the government will retain in our hands,” said Peretz. “But I don’t think it is the time diplomatically or from a socioeconomic point of view to include and invest disproportionate sums in new settlements that until recently were illegal, and regarding which it is doubtful whether they will remain in Israel’s hands.”
He also raised objections that Kiryat Malachi and Kiryat Gat were left off the list because of their proximity to the center of the country.
Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi), however, dismissed Peretz’s criticism, saying that the decision on which communities to include was made based on purely professional and objective criteria.
PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi, meanwhile, denounced the inclusion of settlements in the priority map as a “confidence destruction measure.”
“While Palestine has cooperated with international efforts to seek a two-state solution on the 1967 border, Israel is responding once again by destroying the 1967 border and violating international law,” Ashrawi said. “Israeli attempts to grab more Palestinian land and to provide settlers with preferential treatment will not be tolerated.”
Ashrawi said “such criminal acts must be met with strong international action.”
Statistics provided to the cabinet as part of the information package on the priority map showed that, as of January 1, 2012, there were 325,500 Jews living in Judea and Samaria, with the exception of east Jerusalem. This represented some 4.2 percent of the country’s population.
The figures also showed that some 43,000 people live on the Golan Heights. Although it was not stated in the documentation presented to the cabinet, this figure is made up of 23,000 Jews and 20,000 Druse.
In addition, 41% of the country lives in Tel Aviv and the central region, the area from Gedera to Hadera. While Tel Aviv has a population density of some 7,522 people per square kilometer, that number drops dramatically to 79 people per square kilometer in the South, and 37 people per square kilometer on the Golan.