Kadima takes control of WZO settlement division

As part of its preparation for unilateral territorial compromises in Judea and Samaria, Kadima will take away control of the World Zionist Organization's settlement division. Shlomo Gravetz, a former Likud co-chair of the Jewish National Fund, and a confidant and childhood friend of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, will take over as head of the settlement division. He will replace Avraham Duvdevani of the WZO's right-wing Mizrahi faction. Kadima's clinching of control over the settlement division comes as the Kadima-led government coalition prepares for the dismantling of two dozen settlement outposts and implementation of Olmert's realignment plan. The change is part of a larger WZO coalition agreement reached last week among some 10 factions that sit on the Zionist executive. News of the WZO coalition agreement came on the eve of the 35th Zionist Congress. The four-day event starts Monday night at Jerusalem's International Convention Center with the slogan "Because the Dream Still Matters." Kadima's control of the settlement division will be ratified by the congress in a vote on Thursday. WZO's settlement division is responsible for developing housing infrastructure beyond the Green Line in accordance with government approval. In 2005 prime minister Ariel Sharon expanded the division's responsibilities to include the Negev and the Galilee. All of the division's $25 million annual budget is provided by the government. The division has no direct financial ties with the WZO, although its head is a member of the WZO executive. The division was created after the Six Day War for what one WZO source called "diplomatic" reasons. "Israel's governments were interested in distancing themselves from settlement policy in Judea and Samaria. The idea was to sidestep charges that settlement policy violated international law," said the source. The Sasson Report, commissioned by Sharon and released in March 2005, accused the settlement division of assisting illegal building of settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. The report's author, Talia Sasson, recommended disbanding the division "unless the government authorizes ad-hoc the division as a settling body." In exchange for the settlement division, Mizrahi, the single largest faction in WZO's 510-member congress with 95 seats, received the co-chairmanship of the Jewish National Fund, which has a budget of more than NIS 700m. for 2006. The JNF is responsible for forestation, nature reserves and environmental protection. The co-chairmanship, which will be given to Duvdevani, is the most senior position held by the Mizrahi faction in the WZO's history. Mizrahi also gained control of Hagshama, which focuses on Zionist activism among college students and young leaders in the Diaspora. A Mizrahi representative will head an upgraded Department for Orthodox Religious Affairs in the Diaspora. MK Zevulun Orlev, chairman of the National Religious Party, the Israeli political arm of the World Mizrahi movement, said he was very pleased with the WZO coalition agreement. "Olmert is planning to dry up settlement funding," said Orlev. "Under these circumstances co-chair of the JNF is four grades better than the settlement division." Duvdevani has been head of the settlement division since 1997. The Likud controlled the division for the 30 years preceding him. Mati Droblas headed the division until the late eighties and was replaced by Salai Merridor. As part of the coalition agreement, Ze'ev Bielski, who is backed by Olmert, will be reelected for a full term of four years as chairman of the WZO and the Jewish Agency. Shlomo Mula, number 36 on the Kadima list, will be the first Ethiopian to sit on the WZO executive. Mula will head the WZO department that fights anti-Semitism and promotes Zionism. He will also head the Jewish Agency's Bialik publishing house and WZO's Zionist library. About 2000 representatives from Jewish communities in 33 countries, including Israel, will participate in the gathering which will deal with such issues as the aliya, strengthening Israel's connection with the Diaspora, the struggle against anti-Semitism, the development of the Negev and Galilee and bridging the socio-economic gaps in Israel.