Israel's Attorney General to Block Coalition Deals Aimed at Funding Settlements

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Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein at the State Control committee, December 19, 2011.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein is expected to oppose any distribution of funds as part of Likud’s coalition agreements with Habayit Hayehudi and United Torah Judaism, particularly those earmarked for the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division.

In an opinion published in February, Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber wrote that the government must stop funding the Settlement Division, either through the general budget or directly to the department. Consequently, the 2015 budget will not include funding of the division.

Weinstein approved the opinion and is therefore expected to oppose its contravention in the coalition agreements.

Under the coalition agreement signed between Habayit Hayehudi and Likud late last week, 50 million shekels (around $13 million) will be added to the budget of the WZO’s Settlement Division, which funds infrastructure for West Bank settlements and which Agriculture Minister-designate Uri Ariel will control.

According to a directive issued by the attorney general in April with regard to political agreements with funding ramifications, money is not to be earmarked in a way that gives the sense that it “belongs” to parties or factions, and a political agreement is not to be implemented at all if it earmarks funding to a specific entity.

The directive was issued out of concern that such earmarking of funds could make the receiving entities dependent on the parties that wrote the agreement “to their benefit,” and could also often constitute a cover for personal or political gain. The directive requires professionals in the various ministries to weigh in on any such political agreements before they are signed.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government faces its first challenge even before being sworn in later this week. Netanyahu will have to ensure that all 61 members of the coalition vote to amend the Basic Law on the Government tomorrow, in order to enable an increase in the size of the cabinet. Only then will Likud begin to hand out portfolios.

This morning, the outgoing cabinet will be asked to approve Netanyahu’s request to postpone implementation of the clause restricting the cabinet to 18 members. Netanyahu will also ask the cabinet to allow him to renew the controversial tradition of appointing ministers without portfolio to his new cabinet, along with increasing the number of deputy ministers.

The outgoing cabinet is expected to ask the Knesset to move these amendments ahead by expedited legislation, and to vote on the second and third readings as early as Monday. MK Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) said Saturday that his faction would petition the High Court of Justice against the move.

As part of the coalition agreement, Likud and Habayit Hayehudi also agreed on the appointment of a team to review ways to legalize unauthorized settlement outposts and unauthorized buildings within settlements. The government has not promised to renew construction in West Bank settlements and in Jerusalem, despite Habayit Hayehudi’s demand for such a commitment.

The outposts team – which is likely to include the cabinet secretary, a representative of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, and two representatives of Justice Minister-designate Ayelet Shaked and Ariel – will only have three months to formulate its recommendations.

The coalition agreement features a special arrangement whose purpose is to prevent Shaked from obtaining total control of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation (the body that determines which bills the coalition will advance and which will be blocked). As justice minister, Shaked will chair the committee.

Likud took action to curb her power out of fear she will delay legislation that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supports, or accelerate the passage of controversial draft laws behind his back. Under the coalition agreement, Netanyahu will appoint a deputy to Shaked, with whom she must coordinate the committee’s agenda. “If the deputy requests that a vote be delayed, it shall be delayed until a new arrangement is agreed between the deputy and the chairwoman of the committee, or until the prime minister decides otherwise,” the agreement states.

Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett requested a billion-shekel addition to the budget of the Education Ministry, which he will head, but in the end his party will be allotted 630 million shekels to support its goals in the areas of education, welfare, settlement, culture, religion and agriculture. The money will come out of coalition funds that, prior to the 2013 election, Bennett referred to as “pocket change.”

The coalition agreement also stipulates that the government is “to examine claims of a rise in illegal missionary activities in Israel and the steps to deal with them, as needed.” Likud and Habayit Hayehudi also agreed to establish a forum for communication among the parties in the coalition on the issue of religious services.

The Gush Katif Heritage Center, meanwhile, will be allotted a three-year budget of 15 million shekels that will also cover the costs of commemorating the 10-year anniversary, later this year, of the disengagement from the Gaza Strip.

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