Isolated settlements kept on 'priority map' - to Labor's dismay

More than 300,000 people

netanyahu and co fadc 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
netanyahu and co fadc 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
The cabinet on Sunday is scheduled to approve the revised national priorities map that was released last Wednesday with the addition of several cities, but despite pressure from Labor, isolated settlements will not be excluded, sources close to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Saturday night. On Thursday night, Labor chairman Ehud Barak persuaded Netanyahu to add Ashkelon to the map of priorities, and the prime minister decided to also include the Ma'ale Adumim settlement, which is the third largest West Bank Jewish community. Barak failed to convince Netanyahu to delay the vote on the map, however. In a meeting on Friday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman persuaded the prime minister to also add two cities in the Galilee that have large immigrant populations: Migdal Ha'emek and Afula. Beit She'an has also been rumored to be on its way onto the map, and the cabinet will vote to give NIS 50 million to the Druse villages Usufiya and Daliat al-Carmel. But despite the additions of cities in the Negev and Galilee, Labor ministers are expected to decide in their ministerial meeting before the cabinet session to vote against the map. "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 vote against the map," said a spokesman for minister-without-portfolio Avishay Braverman, who is responsible for the Israeli-Arab population. According to Peace Now, 91 out of 121 settlements are on the list, including many settlements in isolated West Bank spots located beyond the security barrier. Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog said that from his standpoint, as long as the isolated settlements were included, nothing had changed. He said he would harshly condemn the map in Sunday's Labor ministerial meeting. A source in the Prime Minister's Office said that some 1.9 million people would be included in the priority area. The more than 120,000 residents of Judea and Samaria on the list represented only a small fraction of those impacted by the map, said the source. 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. 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. The US was not appraised in advance of plans to place 91 settlements on the revised national priorities map, but talks were held between the Prime Minister's Office and Washington on the issue Thursday once the matter was publicized in Israel. Israel promised the US that the placement of settlements on the list was not an attempt to roll back the 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction that was instituted at the end of November in an attempt to bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table. The US has been assured that the incentives given to the settlements as a result of being on the map will have nothing to do with housing or construction. Settlements on the map have not received housing incentives for at least the last seven years, said Gush Etzion Region Regional Council head Shaul Goldstein, who added that even then the benefits they received were comparable to other areas on the map. He added that at present they are not always eligible for all the services afforded communities in national priority areas. Dani Dayan, who heads the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, said he hoped the cabinet would approve the map with the 91 settlements included, even though he would have wanted all the settlements on the map. If security was the first criteria, there was no reason to exclude settlements, since all his communities were vulnerable, he said. But Goldstein noted that some of the settlements in his area, such as Elon Shvut and Neve Daniel, which were excluded from the map, did not have the same security needs as others in his region. On Saturday night, Ma'aleh Adumim mayor Benny Kashriel told The Jerusalem Post he did not have confirmation from the Prime Minister's Office that his city would be included on the map. He first learned that it would be excluded at a Likud faction meeting on Wednesday. On Thursday, he said, he lobbied both the cabinet secretary and the Prime Minister's Office to include his settlement on the map. They told him they would weigh its inclusion, but made no promises, Kashriel said. The fact that the city was vulnerable from a security perspective had everything to do with the government's failure to construct the security barrier around the city as planned, he said. Kashriel added that he was already paying NIS 7 million from his own budget to provide security to the residents. Only once the security barrier is constructed can the government start to talk about dropping Ma'aleh Adumim from the list, he added. Hagit Ofran of Peace Now said that none of the settlements should be included on the map. She said the decision was a political one and had nothing to do with security. Ofran added that it was possible to ensure the safety of those who lived in the settlements without taking a step such as this one, which she said would endanger the peace process.