Gov't might fund more safety rooms in Gaza periphery as part of public works program

The state will not change its decision to provide reinforced security rooms to Gaza-area residents in three stages over several years, but might allocate more money for this as part of a public works program to prevent an economic crisis, its attorneys told the High Court of Justice Monday. The state's brief came in response to a petition by residents of 11 kibbutzim within a 4.5 kilometer radius of the Gaza Strip, which are only included in the third stage of funding and construction. They want the court to order the state to fund the second and third stages of the program immediately because in May, three months after the state approved the three-stage plan, terrorists from Gaza began using new, more lethal weapons and now posed a greater threat than when the three-stage plan was originally devised. "During a discussion on November 16 held by the prime minister, the finance minister and others on how to cope with the world economic crisis, the Finance Ministry presented a plan that includes a number of measures that the Treasury intends to implement to prepare Israel for the possibility of an approaching recession and to stabilize the Israeli economy to get through the crisis in the best possible way," the state wrote, in its latest response to the petition. "Among the tools that were presented to the prime minister in that discussion, the Treasury is planning to invest many billions of shekels in infrastructure development. "The prime minister said during the meeting that despite the security cabinet decision of November 12 not to change the three-stage plan to build reinforced security rooms in Sderot and the Gaza periphery at this point, if, in fact, the program for investments on the scale envisioned by the Treasury is implemented, he believes it would be correct to speed up the reinforcement of the houses in Sderot and the Gaza periphery." The state asked the court for permission to submit another update at the end of the month regarding the Treasury's plan, including the possibility of allocating more money to build more safety rooms than countenanced by the first phase of the three-phase program. The court asked the petitioners for their response to the possibility raised by the state. In the meantime, however, the state rejected the petitioners' demand to allocate another NIS 500 million immediately (the state allocated NIS 327 m. for the first stage in February,) without any connection to the economic recovery plan under consideration by the government. In its decision, which was not made public until Monday, the state rejected the petitioners' claim that the situation had significantly changed in May. "The circumstances upon which the government decision of February 28 were based have not changed in such a way as to justify changing it," the security cabinet decided. "Therefore, the government will continue to act according to the existing criteria and priorities set down in that decision."