Cabinet approves national priority map

Cabinet approves natl p

barak cabinet 248 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
barak cabinet 248 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Over the objections of Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the four other Labor Party ministers, the cabinet on Sunday overwhelmingly approved by a 21-5 vote the government's new national priority map that will include some 90 West Bank settlements. In a protracted cabinet debate over the map, numerous Likud ministers took Barak to task for saying that the settlements should not be granted the priority status as a "prize" at a time when a number of the settlements were the jumping off point for extremist actions such as Friday's torching of the mosque in the West Bank village of Yasuf. "The Labor Party's priorities are with the Galilee, the Negev and the communities in the periphery, period," Barak said, objecting to the inclusion of settlements in the map. He said that the settlers were represented in the map well beyond their proportion in the country. The map will give preferential treatment to some 1.9 million Israelis, including some 110,000 settlers and 800,000 Israeli Arabs. While the Israeli Arabs were drawn into the map due primarily to considerations having to do with narrowing the gaps between the periphery and the center of the country, the prime reason for including the settlements had to do with security considerations. "The army provides security for Israelis wherever they are and will continue to do that in every situation, in the future as well," Barak said. "But there are a number of small settlements that consistently are the source of extremist actions that harm the fabric of life in Judea and Samaria. For example, like the grave incident in the mosque on Friday." Barak did not say which settlements he was referring to. Barak said he did not think these settlements "should get a prize in the form of being included in the national priority map." Barak emphasized that the IDF would continue to protect all Israelis and pointed out that the security situation in Judea and Samaria was much better than it has been in years. Barak's comments led to sharp reactions from a number of Likud ministers, including Culture Minister Limor Livnat, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar. One source inside the meeting said that the defense minister was criticized for advocating collective punishment, and said that just as he did not say that Arab villages in the north, which have spawned extremism and extreme actions among Israeli Arabs, should be kept out of the map, so too should he not collectively punish the settlements for the acts of a tiny minority. Barak, during the cabinet meeting, suggested postponing the vote for a week to take a renewed look at the settlements inside the map. When this was rejected, all five Labor ministers voted against the map. Government sources said that the Defense Ministry drew up the list of settlements that should be included inside the map because of security considerations. Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said during the discussion that in his mind, security considerations should not be relevant for the national priorities map, and that the only areas that should be included were the Negev, the Galilee and the Arab communities. He said that security no longer needed to be the "determinant" for decisions regarding the map, "because in war, the center of the country would be threatened more than isolated settlements." At the insistence of Shas, a number of additional communities were added to the map at Sunday's meeting, including those in the Lahish area that house many of the evacuees from the Gaza settlements, as well as the planned haredi town of Harish in the Wadi Irron area. These communities were added to the list by changing the criteria to also include as eligible for the benefits communities that are less than five years old, and those which have grown seven-fold during that same time period. While most of the communities inside the map will get preferential treatment in the areas of education, employment, housing and infrastructure, the 90 West Bank settlements on the list, the cabinet was told, would not be getting any preferential treatment when it comes to housing or infrastructure. In addition, the cabinet was told that illegal settlement outposts - such as Shvut Rachel and Sansana - would be taken off the list. "What is not legal will be taken out of the map," a senior government source said. In addition, it was decided to set up an interministerial committee to decide whether Ashkelon, Kiryat Gat, the haredi settlement of Modi'in Illit and settlements not protected by the security barrier - such as Ma'aleh Adumim and Beit Aryeh - should be included on the list. The committee, whose members have not yet been named, has been charged with drawing up its recommendations within 30 days. In 2006, the High Court of Justice, dealing with Ariel Sharon's map of national priorities from 2002, established that there had to be clear criteria for being included in a national priority area. As a result, legislation was passed that mandated that this designation depended on a number of criteria, including the security situation in the community, its economic strength, distance from the center, as well as the country's goals of reducing socio-economic gaps and distributing the country's population to outlying areas. Obviously concerned that including the settlements in the map will be seen as providing incentives for people to move to Judea and Samaria, Netanyahu stressed during the cabinet meeting that "it is important to understand that we intend on determining the future of the communities in Judea and Samaria only in a final agreement." Following the vote, Science Minister Daniel Herschkowitz lauded the decision, calling the map a "necessary, ethical decision that fits with the ongoing efforts of this government to rehabilitate the evacuees of Gush Katif." On the other side of the equation, Kadima MK Meir Sheetrit accused the government of dealing "with ensuring its own survival more than any other issue. With one hand, it freezes settlement construction and with the other it pays hush money to the hilltop youth in unauthorized outposts. "The map should have been drawn according to socioeconomic lines and not political lines," Sheetrit said in a statement. Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.