Israeli Plan Would Add 35 Isolated West Bank Settlements to New 'National Priorities Map'

'Border proximity’ criterion gets more weight in new system; plan contravenes understandings between Israel, U.S. that prohibit granting economic incentives to encourage people to move to the settlements.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The Israeli government approved Sunday new criteria for granting government assistance to communities, adjusting the regulations in a way that government officials said would add 35 isolated West Bank settlements to the list of favored communities, or “national priorities map.”

Residents of “priority list” communities receive income tax breaks and other housing, infrastructure, education, security and culture subsidies. The government allocates some 750 million shekels ($213.7 million) each year just for the income tax benefits.

None of the settlements expected to be included are in the settlement blocs that, it is widely assumed, will be annexed to Israel if an agreement with the Palestinians is ever reached. Most of the beneficiaries are in the Jordan Valley and the Hebron Hills.

The plan contravenes understandings between Israel and the United States that prohibit granting government economic incentives to encourage people to move to the settlements.

The new criteria, drawn up by Finance Minister Yair Lapid, give preference to population centers within two kilometers of a hostile border as well as urban centers in the Negev. They will receive tax breaks as well as government benefits for housing, infrastructure, education, security and culture. The benefits will begin in 2015 and their scope will be determined in the budget talks for next year.

The eligibility for a population center to win national priority status depends on several criteria, among them the extent to which the Central Bureau of Statistics deems it peripheral, its proximity to a hostile border and the number of residents, which must be fewer than 75,000 people. The ministers increased the weight for population centers near hostile borders from 25% to 40% as per Lapid’s request.

Communities to be included will be up to nine kilometers from the northern border and up to seven kilometers from other borders. Special consideration will be given to communities up to two kilometers from borders with countries with which Israel is not at peace. The aim is “to encourage settlement near the borders despite the security risk inherent in this.”

Extra consideration will also be given to urban communities in the north and south, as part of government policy to develop the Galilee and the Negev. The list is expected to include 31 towns in the north and 13 in the south.

On the other hand, the socio-economic criterion will be given less weight, dropping from 35 percent to 20 percent.

Government officials stated that the reason for adding settlements over the Green Line to the list is security-related and has no connection to the policy of expanding settlements. “The ministers weren’t given a list of communities, but only general definitions,” said a Finance Ministry source involved in drawing up the list. “It still isn’t clear how the decision to increase the points granted to communities near the border [will affect] the number of settlements on the new map [of priority communities] or the scope of benefits that their residents will get.”

Finance Ministry officials insisted on Sunday that the list of communities would be finalized only during the 2015 budget talks.

Last August, before the publication of the new criteria Lapid had formulated, the government added 15 population centers identified with the settlers and Habayit Hayehudi voters, and removed two communities identified with the Haredi parties.

At the time, 20 new communities were added, about half of them settlements, including some beyond the major settlement blocs, like Eshkolot and Naguhot in the South Hebron Hills. Other settlements on the list are Rahelim, Sansana and Bruchin, which until a few months ago were considered illegal outposts but were approved retroactively by the government just before the last Knesset election. Also on the priorities map are Nofim, Geva Binyamin, Ma’aleh Michmash and Elon Moreh. The previous list also included a list of communities in which former Gaza residents were living, such as Be’er Ganim, Bnei Dekelim, Ganei Tal, Netzer Hazani and Nitzan.

Other new communities on the map are Kibbutz Alumot in the Jordan Valley, Alon Hagalil, the mixed secular-religious Moshav Amatzia in the Lachish area, Kadita in the Upper Galilee, Shalva in the Negev and Mitzpeh Ilan.

The government approved the list of national priority areas in 2009 and expanded it in 2012 to include housing benefits. The list includes communities on the northern border, development towns and communities near Gaza as well as several West Bank settlements.

The new criteria were drawn up under guidelines set by the High Court of Justice, following a petition by several Arab communities that have never been included in the priority lists. The court was holding off ruling on the petition until the government could set new criteria for inclusion.

The West Bank settlement of Elon Moreh is seen in the foreground, and Nablus is seen in the background, on Dec. 9, 2009.Credit: AP

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