Cabinet to Discuss Plan to Pump Funds Into Settlements

Ministers divided over addition of West Bank settlements, central cities Ashkelon and Ma'aleh Adumim.

The cabinet is to discuss a new map of national priority zones on Sunday, with the proposed list including for the first time six West Bank settlements with a total population of about 110,000.

Figures close to Defense Minister Ehud Barak said yesterday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to accept Barak's request to postpone the vote on the issue for a week.

"Apparently there will be a discussion only, rather than a vote," a source said. But sources in the Prime Minister's Bureau said yesterday that Netanyahu is to examine revising the map and that it was expected to be submitted for a vote at today's cabinet meeting.

"There will be a vote, but there will be a discussion about Ashkelon, Ma'aleh Adumim and any other proposal for changes in the [national priority] map," a source in the bureau said.

Meanwhile, a body representing evacuees from the Gaza Strip is reportedly furious over the fact that the new communities established for their neighbor in the eastern Lachish and Halutza areas are not included on the new map.

Gush Katif Settlers Council chairman Doron Ben-Shlomi said that if the omission was an error than the cabinet should correct it immediately. "If this is not a mistake, the cabinet, which called and encouraged the new settlement, has been misleading, and is not making good on its obligations," Ben-Shlomi said.

After the revised map was released on Wednesday, many figures in Labor, as well as in Shas and Yisrael Beiteinum, called for various changes in the list of communities to be included. Labor Party ministers said they would vote against the new plan if the number of West Bank settlements on it was not reduced.

Communities in national priority zones are entitled to various benefits in education, housing, employment and infrastructure. A total of 1.9 million Israelis stand to benefit from the national priority map, with about NIS 1,000 in benefits invested in each.

Barak did not say he would vote against the list as it now stands, but he did say he would demand that Ashkelon be included in it and that investment in West Bank settlements be limited.

Yisrael Beiteinu also asked for Askhelon to be included, while Shas requested that the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim be added to the map.

In a letter sent to Netanyahu on Friday, Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) said it was time to "restore sensitivity." The chairman of the ministerial committee for assistance to the Gaza Strip evacuees, Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz (Habayit Hayehudi) said he intended to demand at today's cabinet meeting that all communities in which Gaza Strip evacuees are living should be part of the new map.

In discussing the matter with Prime Minister's Office Director General Eyal Gabai, Hershkowitz said: "The people who were uprooted from their homes and are having difficulty rehabilitating themselves and their homes are the first that should be included in a map of national priority zones."