Settlers to be reimbursed for EU tariffs

State to give settlers over NIS 32 million for tolls they pay to export goods to European Union.

The government plans to pay settler farmers and business owners NIS 32 million to compensate them for the tariffs they pay to export their goods to the European Union, The Jerusalem Post has learned. According to Peace Now, which released a detailed report this week on state spending over the pre-1967 Armistice Line, this is just a small fraction of the approximately NIS 2 billion the state intends to spend on settlements over the next two years. Under a free-trade understanding with the European Union, Israeli business owners are exempt from tariffs on exports, most agriculture products will soon be tariff-free as well. Israel's practice of stamping goods with a label that allows the EU to determine their origin enables the EU to apply the free-trade deal only to those products which come from within the pre-1967 line. Products from the settlements are charged the regular tariff. According to Peace Now, the NIS 32m. set aside by the state in the 2009/10 draft budget is just part of NIS 1b. that is clearly marked for settlement activity and for projects in Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem. But it is likely that the full amount the government plans to spend over the Green Line exceeds NIS 2b., Hagit Ofran of Peace Now told The Jerusalem Post. She said this ran counter to Israel's obligation to freeze settlement activity. Initial queries by the Post to a number of ministries yielded no information regarding funding for Judea and Samaria. The Finance Ministry explained that funds earmarked for Judea and Samaria were scattered throughout the various ministries and were not clearly marked in one category in the state budget, which is posted on its Web site. Queries to other ministries, including Housing, Interior, Infrastructure and Transportation received no responses by press time. But in talking about the settlements, officials including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu have clearly stated the government supports the rights of the settlers to live normal lives. Although the US has asked Israel to freeze settlement activity, one of the larger budget items is NIS 280m. for a section of Route 1, by the Ma'aleh Adumim settlement, as it heads down to the Dead Sea. As previously reported in the Post, some NIS 150m. is included in the draft budget for infrastructure work around already completed apartments in the "07" neighborhood of Ma'aleh Adumim. Another NIS 80m. would be spent on a road to connect the Jewish northeast Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze'ev to the Begin Highway. The US has harshly criticized Israel for construction work in east Jerusalem, but Israel has maintained that since Israeli law applies there, and it is considered part of Israel, there were no plans to restrict building in the capital. In addition, some NIS 200m. has been included for marketing of 1,210 apartments in the southeast Jerusalem Jewish neighborhood of Har Homa, of which 970 have yet to gain approval. Also, some NIS 54m. have been budgeted in the Construction and Housing Ministry for protection of Jewish residents in a Palestinian neighborhood in east Jerusalem, according to Peace Now. Under the Defense Ministry budget, Ofran said, there is some 160m. set aside for bulletproof buses. Although she acknowledged that security was important, she said that if the settlements did not exist, the state could spend that money elsewhere. Still, Peace Now did not list as part of its initial NIS 1b. the close to NIS 200m. to be spent for police and the half million spent on disengagement-related issues such as resettling the evacuees who were pulled out of Gaza in 2005.