Illegal construction work in the West Bank settlement of Beit El.
Illegal construction work in the West Bank settlement of Beit El. Photo by Azmi Badeer / Yesh Din
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It’s hard not to be impressed with the creativity displayed by Gabi Kadosh, the prime minister’s advisor on settlement affairs. At his suggestion, urban settlements are to be defined as rural ones, thereby exempting the government from the need to publish tenders in order to market land in them. Publication is the key difference between the definitions: Rural settlements get their land from the World Zionist Organization, which allocates it to the relevant settlement movement; the latter can then market the land without having to publish a tender. In contrast, land allocations in urban settlements do require a tender.

Public tenders delay construction, and above all, they generate an uproar. For the settlers, tenders are a headache, because they obligate them to overcome opposition twice – first to obtain construction permits and then again to market the land. For the government, and also for the state, tenders create an international problem, because whenever they are published, they spark harsh criticism of the government’s policy, criticism that reignites the steamroller of international pressure every time.

The cure for this pressure, Kadosh has concluded, in consultation with the settlers, is simply to change the way settlements are defined. This plan, if carried out, would seemingly obscure the little transparency that still remains in the process of establishing settlements; it would transform state lands into a private business run by settlement movements in the territories. Ostensibly, not publishing tenders would make it possible to blind critics of this policy and thus to build settlements without opposition. But the sanctions the European Union intends to impose on existing settlements and the American criticism of government decisions even before any land is marketed show that publishing tenders doesn’t make any difference.

A government operating in secrecy, land allocations with no public supervision, and the circumvention or distortion of the law by means of administrative decisions are the rotten fruit that ought to worry every Israeli, regardless of whether he is for or against the settlements. The government would do better to shelve Kadosh’s bad advice and instead prevent the damage Israel suffers on account of the settlements by changing its policy.