Livni to impose freedom of information act on WZO settlements division

Meretz head says division’s budget grew in 2011 from allocated NIS 62.35 million to NIS 373.3m.

Zehava Gal-On at the President's residence 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Zehava Gal-On at the President's residence 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua) plans to impose the freedom of information act on the World Zionist Organization’s settlements division, so that interested citizens can receive details of its West Bank development activities.
She informed the Knesset Law Committee on Sunday of her intention to do so.
Meretz party head MK Zehava Gal-On had asked Livni to take this step after a number of entities, including nongovernmental group Yesh Din, had failed to receive information from the division, which since 1968 has been in charge of the initial development of West Bank settlements. This includes initial land preparation and infrastructure.
In the last decade it has also been involved in projects in the Negev and the Galilee.
Although the settlements division operates under the auspices of the WZO, it executes the direct orders of the Israeli government. Its funding comes from the Knesset-approved state budget.
Earlier this month, Gal-On raised questions about the division’s budget, which she noted was six times larger than the sum allocated by the Knesset.
In June she wrote a letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the Knesset’s legal adviser, Eyal Yinon, in which she asked them to limit budgetary transfers to the WZO settlements division.
In the letter, she explained that in 2011 the Knesset had allocated a NIS 62.35 million to the division. But its actual budget with additional monetary transfers grew to NIS 373.3m. Similarly, Gal-On wrote, in 2010 the division’s allocated budget was NIS 68.5m., but with monetary transfers it grew to NIS 231m.
Neither Netanyahu nor Yinon responded to her letter.
In response, WZO settlements division head Daniel Kritchman wrote to Gal-On that it was understood that the initial Knesset budget was only a base sum.
The additional money is added on a per-project basis, he said.
Kritchman noted, for example, that the WZO had prepared the land for the new homes for former residents of the Migron outpost.
His division, he said, also helped prepare land for the Gaza evacuees.
The state comptroller as well as the WZO comptroller also examine the division’s budget, he said.
Earlier in April, Gal-On turned to Livni and asked that she impose the freedom of information act on the settlements division and to declare it a public institution.
She explained that the division had refused to hand over information on the grounds that the freedom of information act was not applicable, because it was not a public institution. The High Court of Justice upheld that decision.
Gal-On told Livni that since the settlements division managed most of the state land in the West Bank, it should be considered a public body.
Failure to apply the law, Gal-On said, damages the public’s right to know.
When contacted by The Jerusalem Post, the WZO settlements division referred the matter to the Prime Minister’s Office. The PMO declined to comment.