Israel Approves Special Benefits for Religious and Right-wing Towns

Ministers adjust criteria for assistance to enable all 12 communities to qualify.

Moti Bassok
Moti Bassok
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A house in the illegal Netiv Ha'avot outpost, in Gush Etzion.
A house in the illegal Netiv Ha'avot outpost, in Gush Etzion.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Moti Bassok
Moti Bassok

In an unprecedented move, Israel's cabinet unanimously approved Sunday special status to 12 communities – all of them either religious or that voted for right-wing parties in the past elections – entitling them to preference for government grants and services.

The 12 include seven communities whose residents are evacuees from the Gaza Strip’s Gush Katif and already receive substantial tax breaks. The special benefits, which include help from government ministries with education and higher education, jobs, housing and municipal development, are in force until July 31 next year.

To designate the new settlements as qualifying for preferential treatment, ministers approved adjusting the criteria that have been used until now, widening the definition of a settlement adjacent to the border of a hostile country to within two kilometers instead of one kilometer.

Moreover, to include communities that are nowhere near any border, like Mitzpeh Eilan in the Sharon and Ganei Tal north of Ashkelon, ministers approved another clause that gave them the final word on the matter.

“Relevant minsters are authorized, with the knowledge of the finance minister, to decide that certain benefits and incentives will be given to settlements designated national priority as a separate and independent group,” the cabinet decision read.

Officially, the settlements added to the national priority list are relatively young and face special challenges.

In a separate vote Sunday, the government also approved a plan by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minster Moshe Kahlon government assistance and tax breaks totaling 536 million shekels ($140 million) over 2017-18 to settlements adjacent to Gaza. The aid is aimed at fortifying communities near the border where Israel has fought three wars with Hamas since 2009 and residents have borne the brunt of rocket attacks.

The benefits include income tax credits of 20%, discounts on municipal rates of 45% for homeowners, subsidies for daycare and 93 million shekels in aid to local authorities in the era. It also includes 40 million for sewage infrastructure and 25 million for environmental assistance as well as help with hotels and other tourist facilities.

Government benefits are often subject to political considerations. For instance, 25% of the 407 communities that are entitled to tax breaks are West Bank settlements, a figure way out of proportion to their share of the population,. The benefits entitle residents to benefits of 7% to 12% and add up together to about 1.3 billion shekels annually.

Before the High Court of Justice intervened last year, the list of communities with tax breaks didn’t include any Arab or Druze communities.

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