WZO Settlement Department Gets More Money Than It Is Budgeted

In 2012, the department - which owns almost all the land allotted to building settlements in territories - was granted an annual budget of NIS 60.3 million, while its expenses reached NIS 272 million.

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

The World Zionist Organization Settlement Department’s annual spending is several times higher than its original budget, Haaretz has learned. In recent years the government has transferred additional funds to the Settlement Department ranging from several dozen million shekels to hundreds of millions.

The department is funded and directed by the government, despite being formally part of the World Zionist Organization. It owns almost all the land allotted to building settlements in the territories. The department manages the lands and transfers them, usually to Amana, the settlement branch of the Council of Jewish Settlements in Judea, Samaria.

In recent years the government has authorized the department to establish communities for settlers evacuated from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank settlement Migron, as well as building communities in the Negev and Galilee. The department is currently headed by Danny Kritchman, who was appointed to the post by Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman.

Haaretz has discovered that in recent years there has been a huge difference between the department’s budget and the actual sums it is allotted. While the annual budget approved by the Knesset usually ranges between NIS 50 million and NIS 90 million, the actual sums transferred to the department consistently reach several hundred million shekels. All the extra funding is approved by the Knesset’s Finance Committee, but since the government transfers the money in several installments during the fiscal year, supervision of the funds is weakened.

In 2012, the department was granted an annual budget of NIS 60.3 million, but its expenses reached NIS 272 million. Thus the original sum for improving infrastructure in the department’s central district − in other words, in the territories − grew from NIS 4 million to NIS 49 million. Budgets for “social activities” in the settlements grew from NIS 2.2 million to NIS 2.9 million. The establishment of a new site for settlers evacuated from Migron, which did not appear in the original budget, cost a further NIS 28 million.

In the northern district, infrastructure improvements were initially budgeted at NIS 1.5 million, but eventually cost NIS 13 million. A further NIS 5 million beyond the original budget was transferred for research and development grants. In the Negev, NIS 1.2 million was transferred for establishing communities, and a further NIS 26 million for infrastructure.

In 2011 the settlement department’s original budget was NIS 62 million, but it grew by 500 percent to NIS 373 million. Budgets for infrastructure in the territories grew by NIS 5 million and for social activities by a further NIS 1.5 million.
More substantial funds were spent on student communities in the south of Israel, infrastructure work in the north and investments in the relocation of evacuated Gaza Strip settlers.

Meretz leader Zahava Gal-On, a member of the Knesset’s Finance Committee, called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “immediately halt the transfer of irregular sums to the settlement department, which is subordinate to your office.

These sums are transferred without serious supervision by the Knesset, and without public debate. The data I revealed make it clear that in recent years scandalous sums have been transferred to the Settlement Department, through the Finance Committee, in a manner that bypasses the Knesset and makes the annual budget irrelevant.”

The Settlement Department’s response: “All funds transferred to the department are approved by the Knesset’s Finance Committee following debates and precise details of every sum and its intention. The sums transferred to the department [beyond the original budget] are used to carry out projects by other ministries who request that the department carry out the projects, such as infrastructure improvements and the relocation of Migron, to name just a few examples. All these projects were approved by the government and the relevant bodies. In recent years we have carried out projects costing hundreds of millions of shekels for the evacuees from Gush Katif.”

Construction in the settlement of Yakir after the freeze’s end in September 2010.Credit: Nir Kafri

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