Meretz petitions HCJ to halt swearing in of new government

Faction argues two sections of Likud-Bayit Yehudi coalition deal are illegal.

Zahava Gal-On
The Meretz party on Tuesday petitioned the High Court of Justice for a restraining order to halt the expected swearing in of the new government, which could take place on Thursday or Monday.
In a brief it submitted to the court, Meretz argued that two sections of the Likud’s coalition agreement with Bayit Yehudi are illegal and must be eliminated from the document.
“We’ve petitioned the HCJ to prevent the government, even before its birth, from trampling on the law,” Meretz head Zehava Gal-On said.
Meretz took issue with sections 67.1 and 67.2 of the coalition agreement which deal with the Settlement Division, an entity that assists with the development of the Galilee, the Negev, and settlements in Judea and Samaria.
Under the terms of the coalition agreement, the Settlement Division would be transferred from the Prime Minister’s Office to the Agriculture Ministry, which would be headed by Uri Ariel of Bayit Yehudi.
The agreement calls for NIS 50 million to be added into the Settlement Division’s budget and for the creation of a committee of directors-general from different ministries to create a working operational model for the division.
Meretz has argued that both requests fly in the face of a legal opinion Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein issued in February about the Settlement Division and which forbade budgetary transfers to the division that went beyond its allocation.
In its petition, Meretz noted that in past years, the Settlement Division’s budget often grew astronomically with such transfers. In 2014, Meretz said, the division’s allocated NIS 58m.
budget had grown to NIS 430m. by September.
Ariel attacked the petition.
“Unfortunately, extremist left-wing Knesset members are busy burdening the High Court of Justice with false nuisance petitions that are collapsing the legal system,” Ariel said.
He added that he plans to use both his new ministry and the Settlement Division to advance projects that would help people throughout the country. During his long years as a public servant, Ariel said, he has worked to make government transparent and plans to continue that practice.
During the last year, Knesset members from Meretz and the Labor Party have attacked the Settlement Division for its lack of transparency in the disbursement of public funding.
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 World Zionist Organization, it has been contracted for decades to execute government- funded projects over the Green Line. No private donor funds were involved in these projects. Over a decade ago the settlement division was given responsibility for developing infrastructure in the Negev and the Galilee.
It was moved from the Prime Minister’s Office to the Labor-led Agriculture Ministry in July 2007, during the tenure of former prime minister Ehud Olmert. But it was returned to the Prime Minister’s Office in 2011, to meet the demands of a coalition agreement between the Likud and former defense minister Ehud Barak’s Independence Party.