Cabinet to Decide Whether to Put Settlement Division Under Attorney General’s Control

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Houses in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim near Jerusalem.
Houses in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim near Jerusalem.Credit: Reuters

A cabinet resolution that will likely be debated this week would require the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division to consult with the attorney general over its work plan.

Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Uri Ariel objects to the proposal.

The coalition agreement signed in 2015 gives Ariel responsibility for the quasi-governmental agency. The Settlement Division has not received state funds for two years, after Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber ruled that the agency was in fact a nongovernmental entity carrying out governmental activities.

A law was passed in December permitting the cabinet to delegate authority to the Settlement Division and requiring the government to formalize its relationship with it.

Ariel’s ministry, in coordination with the attorney general and other agencies, drew up a cabinet resolution formalizing this relationship. Haaretz obtained a copy of the proposal.

One article authorizes the Settlement Division “to work to protect state lands and open spaces, including by creating farm and defensive roads.” It would seem to give the agency powers in the West Bank, where the Civil Administration is charged with protecting state lands and undeveloped areas, but its practical implications are unclear: Zoning bodies must approve any new roads. At most, the Settlement Division could apply for permits and request funds to build such roads.

Under the proposal, the Settlement Division’s purview will include planning and establishing new communities in accordance with cabinet resolutions, including building roads; planning and installing infrastructure; renovating, expanding and developing public buildings; job development, including in agriculture and rural tourism; business development and strengthening weak rural communities.

The resolution does not stipulate that outlying areas must be given higher priority, or that funds be distributed equitably among geographic areas.

The resolution bars the Settlement Division from allocating funds to organizations such as so-called garinim torani’im, groups of religious families that live in and conduct outreach programs in disadvantaged communities.

Ariel is fighting the requirement to consult with the attorney general. He also opposes an article giving the Agriculture Ministry’s counsel the authority to adjudicate disputes, rather than the Settlement Division.

Under the draft resolution, the agriculture minister will draw up the division’s yearly work plan before it is posted on the internet for public comment, prior to its final approval.

Under the resolution, the Settlement Division will have an annual administrative budget of 36 million shekels ($9.6 million) and 200 million shekels to allocate in 2016.

Complaints about Settlement Division staff will be heard by a Histadrut labor federation tribunal, an unusual provision for nongovernment employees.

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