Israel's PM Seeks Huge Budget Hike for Relocation of West Bank Settlement

If request approved, cost of moving 40 settler families will come to nearly $70 million

Heavy machinery working at the site designated for the new settlement, Amichai, June 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Prime Minister’s Office is seeking to increase by tens of millions of shekels the budget for evacuating and resettling residents of the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona.

It asked the Finance Ministry this week for a further 30-70 million shekels ($8.25-$19.25 million) on top of what is already allocated to develop Amichai, the new settlement for those being moved from Amona.

Haaretz has learned that if the requested increase is paid fully, the state will have invested close to a quarter of a billion shekels to evacuate and resettle 40 families who had built homes without permits and against the law in Amona.

Youths burn tires at illegal outpost of Amona ahead of evacuation, February 1, 2017.
Olivieh Fitoussi

A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office denied this report, but four sources familiar with the matter have confirmed it.

The sources said the prime minister’s chief of staff, Yoav Horowitz, asked for the added sum at a meeting this week with officials from several ministries involved in building the new settlement. The meeting was held due to the halt in the new settlement’s construction, caused by the lack of funds which none of the ministries was willing to pay.

So far the treasury has not allocated the sum Horowitz asked for.

Until now some 160 million shekels were earmarked for Amona’s evacuation and building Amichai. The sum consists of about 60 million shekels for infrastructure and public structures, 40 million shekels to compensate the evacuated Amona settlers and settlers evacuated from nine houses in the Ofra. Tens of millions of additional shekels were intended for the evacuation itself and for the settlers’ temporary housing.

Two sources doubted the increase would be paid in full. One said officials were examining the possibility of tasking another government agency with carrying out the project under the current budget, with an added 15 million shekels from the treasury at the most.

Two sources said that if the Housing Ministry’s construction standards are to be maintained, more money will be required. One source said perhaps other government bodies will make do with a smaller budget addition.

The estimate of Amona’s evacuation and Amichai’s construction was based on the allocations included in the cabinet’s decision on the eve of the outpost’s evacuation, on experts’ opinions and on talks with several sources.

The evacuees have not received the allocated compensation yet. Since the evacuation more than six months ago many of them have been staying in a seminary in the nearby Ofra settlement.

The cabinet allocated 124 of the 160 million shekels in December. This sum consists of 15 million shekels for the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council for “the renovation and construction of public structures in communities that took in residents due to the evacuation.”

Nine million shekels were allocated to the council for preparing a temporary site to house the evacuees – a site that was never built. Sixty million shekels were allocated for building the new settlement and 40 million were allocated as personal compensation for the Amona settlers. Part of the compensation fees were intended for the residents of the nine houses in Ofra, which were evacuated about a month after Amona’s evacuation.

The sources said the money for the Mateh Benjamin Regional Council has already been paid. Settlers who were evacuated from Amona said they hadn’t received compensation yet and in any case would have to spend the money on rebuilding their homes in Amichai.

The cabinet allocated 3.5 million shekels for temporary homes for Amona’s settlers for six weeks, until March. Together with the temporary housing in the past four and a half months, estimated at 10.5 million shekels, the total is 13.5 million shekels.

The evacuation day and the few following days cost the state a few more million shekels. Towing the mobile homes from Amona to the Shilo industrial area cost about half a million shekels. The evacuation itself, in which hundreds of police officers and soldiers took part, demolishing houses that couldn’t be towed and storing the mobile homes cost a few more millions of shekels.

Also, the ministries bought several dozen mobile homes for housing the evacuees, who didn’t use them in the end, for an estimated few million shekels.

If the treasury pays the 30-70 million additional shekels for building Amichai, the sum allocated by the state to evacuate the illegal outpost and build the new settlement will reach 200-250 million shekels. This is before a solution has been found for the evacuees and before the new settlement has been built.

The Prime Minister’s Office said “the details you presented are incorrect. Horowitz said the community must be built within the approved budget.”