Knesset Panel Postpones Hearing on Transparency of WZO Settlement Arm

Panel delays indefinitely the justice minister's request to expose spending of state-funding of branch.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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A Jewish settler looking at the West bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim, from the E-1 area on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem.
A Jewish settler looking at the West bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim, from the E-1 area on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem.Credit: AP
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

A hearing on approving Justice Minister Tzipi Livni’s request that the Freedom of Information law be applied to the World Zionist Organization’s settlement division has been postponed indefinitely. The Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee is expected to vote on Thursday on two demands to hold another hearing on Livni’s request, which was postponed last week.

The settlement division, which is the government’s operational branch for construction and infrastructure, receives enormous budgets intended for both the settlements and for construction within the Green Line, but these funds are disbursed without any transparency because the Freedom of Information law does not apply to the division.

Last week, committee chairman MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu) held a vote when only MK Shuli Moalem (Habayit Hayehudi) was present, rejecting Livni’s proposal despite its support by most committee members.

Members of the committee said on Wednesday that even though there had been agreement for a revote on Livni’s request, the hearing on her request would be put off until “an unknown date.”

“I find it amazing that a decision was made to separate the hearing on the request from the hearing on the main point: applying the law to the settlement division,” said Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On, who asked for the revote on the topic. “So far, the attempt makes us fear that the committee chairman could bury the hearing on the main point very deeply.”

Officials of the Movement for Freedom of Information announced on Wednesday that the committee’s leadership had refused to allow the group’s representatives to attend the hearing. MK Miki Rosenthal (Labor) wrote to Rotem, the committee chairman, asking him to allow organizations to attend. “I see the exclusion of civic organizations as a serious matter, and call upon you to open the hearing to anyone interested in attending,” he wrote, also demanding that the hearing on the main subject be held on the same occasion.

“It seems that the committee wishes to do everything it can not to hold a proper hearing about requiring the settlement division to act with transparency and issue reports,” said attorney Alona Winograd, executive director of the Movement for Freedom of Information. “It is unfortunate that this is how things are being done. At no point was any logical explanation as to why an agency that is fully funded by public money should not act openly. It would seem that they have something to hide.”

Committee officials said that the hearing would be “very brief, and its purpose would be solely to accept a proposal of a revote. The hearing itself will take place on a date that has not been set yet.”

Early this week, Yesh Atid retracted its statement that it would not support further budget transfers to the settlement division unless the Freedom of Information law was applied to it. Yesh Atid officials approved the transfer of NIS 177 million to the division after, they said, “understandings were reached that would allow the application of the law.” But contrary to the claims made by party officials that the hearing would take place on Thursday, it appears that no date has been set for the hearing about applying the law.

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