PMO releases 'priority areas' map

Dozens of settlements in

As thousands of people protested in Jerusalem Wednesday night against the settlement moratorium, the Prime Minister's Office briefed reporters on its new map of "priority areas" that includes dozens of settlements housing some 110,000 people. The Prime Minister's Office sent cabinet ministers the map of the areas, in advance of a discussion planned for Sunday's cabinet meeting. The settlements are part of a larger map delineating the country's priority areas that takes in about 1.9 million people, or some 25 percent of the population, including some 40% of Israeli Arabs. Those inside the map will receive preferential governmental treatment and incentives for education, housing, infrastructure and employment. Prime Minister's Office Director-General Eyal Gabai pointed out, however, that the housing incentives would not be available to the settlements during the moratorium period. The settlements on the map - including those in the Jordan Valley as well as Ariel, Nili, Betar Illit, Itamar and others - were selected because of security considerations. Many of the communities, but not all of them, are outside the large settlement blocs. The criteria for determining which settlements were to get preferential treatment included the security situation in the area, economic strength, the quality of the municipal services, distance from the center of the country and the degree to which the communities absorbed new immigrants. The primary significance of being designated a preferred area is that the various ministers will have the authority to direct additional funds there.