Knesset’s Bid to Increase Transparency at WZO’s Settlement Arm Fails

Centrist and left-leaning parties wanted the World Zionist Organization’s settlement division to reveal more information on spending.

Zvi Zrahiya
Zvi Zrahiya
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Section of Israeli separation barrier close to Jewish settlement near Jerusalem
Section of Israeli separation barrier close to Jewish settlement near Jerusalem Credit: Reuters
Zvi Zrahiya
Zvi Zrahiya

A Knesset committee on Thursday rejected a proposal that would have enforced transparency on an agency that receives large construction budgets for land on both sides of the Green Line.

The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee voted against Justice Minister Tzipi Livni’s efforts to increase transparency at the agency, the World Zionist Organization’s settlement division.

The committee voted based on a request by MK Zahava Gal-On of Meretz, a left-wing party, and MK Elazar Stern of Livni’s centrist Hatnuah.

The settlement division is the government’s operational branch for construction and infrastructure, but the funds it receives are disbursed without transparency because the Freedom of Information Law does not apply to it. Livni wanted the law to apply to the division.

At the committee meeting, MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List Ta’al) asked the panel’s chairman, MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu), “What do you have to hide?”

Rotem replied: “I want to prevent you from receiving information and using it to submit a petition to the High Court of Justice to prevent construction in Judea and Samaria” — the West Bank.

Stern said he was in favor of both construction and transparency. He then addressed Rotem. “You’re causing the [settlement] division to be suspected of theft and lying,” he said. “What is this fear of criticism? Your behavior proves that nonkosher things are going on there.”

Gal-On asked Rotem, “Did you represent the settlement division in the past as a lawyer, so that’s why you want to prevent full exposure of data?”

Rotem replied: “It’s true, in the past I represented the settlement division against a report by one of your candidates, attorney Talia Sasson.” Sasson is known for her 2005 report on the diversion of millions of shekels to build West Bank settlements and illegal outposts.

Rotem said he would not recuse himself from deliberations on the issue.

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