Cabinet approves nat'l priority map

Barak Priority map awar

barak cabinet 248 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
barak cabinet 248 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The cabinet approved the national priorities map by 21 votes to five on Sunday. Ashkelon was not included in the map, but many settlements were, including several settlements in isolated West Bank spots located beyond the security barrier. The ministers also decided to set up an exceptions committee that will decide within 30 days whether to add Ashkelon to the plan and whether to keep settlements east of the security fence on the map. Following pressure from Shas, Lachish region locales to which Gush Katif evacuees were relocated were added to the list. Following the vote, Science Minister Daniel Hershkowitz lauded the decision, calling the map a "necessary, ethical decision that fits with the ongoing efforts of this government to recuperate the evacuees of Gush Katif." The five Labor ministers voted against the map after Defense Minister and Labor leader Ehud Barak voiced his fierce opposition to the plan saying it "disproportionately represented" residents of isolated settlements and gives a "prize" for right-wing extremism. "Labor's preference is the Galilee, Negev and periphery. Period," Barak said. "The IDF safeguards the security of Israelis everywhere and will continue to do so in every situation. "However, there are a number of small settlements that are consistently a source of acts of extremism that harm the very fabric of life in Judea and Samaria," the defense minister said. As an example, Barak cited Friday's vandalism of a mosque in the West Bank village of Yasuf. Barak said he did not believe such settlers should get the "prize of being included in the national priority map." Reiterating that security forces would continue to protect all Israelis, the defense minister pointed out that the security situation in Judea and Samaria was better than it had been for many years. A source in the Prime Minister's Office had said that the more than 120,000 residents of Judea and Samaria on the list represented only a small fraction of those impacted by the map. Following the vote, Labor and Kadima MKs expressed their opposition to the map approved by the cabinet. MK Meir Sheetrit (Kadima) 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. "The time has come to stop playing games," said MK Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor). "Netanyahu is making a mockery of Labor. There is no benefit to Labor being in the government when it is such an irrelevant minority. Labor isn't even a fig leaf anymore." MK Yuli Tamir (Labor) voiced similar disappointment. "The government's decision on the map makes the freeze unnecessary and proves that Labor has become a joke in Bibi's government." The Labor ministers also discussed the map in their ministerial meeting before the cabinet session. "The increase in the Arab population included in the map from eight percent to 40% is an important accomplishment, but as long as [Samarian settlements] Itamar and Yitzhar are in, we will be against the map," said a spokesman for minister-without-portfolio Avishay Braverman, who is responsible for the Israeli-Arab population. Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog said that from his standpoint, as long as the isolated settlements were included, nothing had changed. He harshly condemned the map in Sunday's Labor ministerial meeting. Security is one of the primary reasons settlements are included within a national priority area, but those on the list are also slated to receive preferential governmental treatment and incentives for education, housing, infrastructure and employment. At the start of Sunday's cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stressed that the aim of the plan was twofold. "Some 40 percent of Israel's non-Jewish residents will be included in the plan, and we're trying to give them benefits in education, employment and infrastructure," he said, adding that the initiative would also give "real security to Jewish residents living in those areas." Industry and Trade Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer stressed that security does not need to be the "determinant" for decisions regarding the map, "because in war, the center of the country would be threatened more than isolated settlements." The map was last revised in 2002 under former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who placed all the settlements on the map. Former prime minister Ehud Olmert was in the midst of redrawing the map in a way that would have excluded most of the settlements, but was unable to complete the task before he left office. Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report