Settlers want housing grants reinstated

Cabinet voted to restrict granting of housing incentives to 70 West Bank settlements subject to ministerial approval.

Palestinian construction worker in Har Homa 390 (photo credit: Baz Ratner/Reuters)
Palestinian construction worker in Har Homa 390
(photo credit: Baz Ratner/Reuters)
Settlers and right-wing politicians appealed on Thursday to ministers and the attorney-general to rescind Sunday’s cabinet vote, which exempted all 70 settlements on the national priority list from automatically receiving special housing benefits.
“This is a case of discrimination that we can not accept,” said Dani Dayan, chairman of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
On Sunday, the cabinet approved a package of special housing grants, loans and incentives to all communities on the national priority list.
A notification of the vote was sent to the media and posted on the prime minister’s website, without any additional information or clarification that it did not pertain to Judea and Samaria.
But on Sunday night, hours after the weekly cabinet meeting, cabinet secretary Tzvi Hauser held a telephone vote through which, at Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s urging, ministers voted 15 to 10 to place a restriction on issuing the grants to the 70 West Bank settlements in question.
The Prime Minister’s Office has not provided a list of how ministers voted.
The one-line amendment to the cabinet decision stated, “providing [housing] benefits to communities in Judea and Samaria will be subject to a political decision.”
Officials have further clarified that this means additional approval is needed before such grants can be given.
But settlers fear that this is a carefully worded way to deny them the grants and have argued that it is tantamount to removing them from the priority list.
An official noted, however, that when it came to housing and construction, it was already understood that special permission was needed for settlements on the national priority list to access funds automatically granted to all other communities on the list.
All the amendment did was to ensure that this policy was extended to a new package of housing benefits, the official said.
But he clarified that the settlements were not taken off the list. The issue of removing the settlements arose in 2009, when the cabinet voted on changes to the criteria and the list.
At the time, the government decided to keep them on the list, to ensure that they remained eligible for security grants and access to funding for services available to other communities in the periphery.
Eligibility for special treatment offered to communities on the national priority list often varies depending on the ministry involved.
Under prime minister Ariel Sharon, the government promised the United States that it would stop offering special incentives to the settlements, but this has translated into not providing extra support for construction.
Settlements are still eligible for grants in other areas such as security and education.
In 2009, when the new priority list was drafted, the Netanyahu government promised the US that although settlements remained on the National Priority list they were not eligible for additional housing grants and incentives.
Efrat municipal council head Oded Ravivi, whose settlement south of the capital is on the national priority list, said that in the past, he had believed that it was possible to access the fund with special permission.
Now he fears permission will always be denied.
So far, he said, he had failed to receive clarification from the government regarding what extra steps he needed to take to receive the grants.
“We have a few [construction] tenders that are open and people need to know if they are going to get discounts,” he said. He was concerned by the amendments vague wording.
Already, Ravivi said, contractors and homeowners in Efrat were being denied incentives from the standard benefits package.
Dayan, in a letter he sent to the cabinet ministers on Sunday, argued that the pledge to the US involved halting incentives to settlements that were not offered to communities elsewhere in the country.
There was no reason why periphery communities such as settlements could not be given the same rights as other similar communities across the country, Dayan said.
Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein (Likud), who opposed the amendment, said settlements in Judea and Samaria should be eligible “by right” to the same incentives offered other national priority communities.
The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel asked the attorney-general to intervene, in a letter in which it said the vote on the amendment had been illegal.
On Wednesday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland indicated that US special envoy David Hale would seek clarification on the meaning of Sunday’s cabinet vote during his visit in Israel over the weekend.