Israeli Government Strikes Down Clause That Would Ensure Settlement Money Used Legally

The clause, which was abrogated at the request of Minister Zeev Elkin, said that local authorities would be notified, in order to remove all doubt, of restrictions placed on the way the money could be spent

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Jewish West Bank regional council heads at his bureau in Jerusalem, November 28, 2019.
Kobi Gideon / GPO

As the cabinet was preparing to approve a transfer of 40 million shekels ($11.5 million) to West Bank settlements, a clause of the measure meant to restrict its use for legally-approved activites was struck down at the request of Israeli minister of environmental and Jerusalem affairs.

Zeev Elkin argued that the clause was discriminatory, since it did not exist in other budgetary decisions.

Former employees of the Justice Ministry said the stipulation had been added out of concern that public funds were being transferred to unauthorized outposts.

The funds transfer was approved this week by the cabinet, with the money earmarked for “security and salvage operations in the settlements.”

The clause that was removed said that local authorities would be notified, in order to remove all doubt, of restrictions placed on the way the money could be spent.

The Justice Ministry said that they saw no reason to interfere in the removal of this clause, since it noted something that was self-evident, namely, that local authorities were expected to remain within the confines of the law.

Former Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein, said that former Justice Ministry officials had instructed legal advisers in government ministries about such funds, indicating that money be transferred only to locations in which building permits had been issued.

The clause that has now been dropped is related to those earlier instructions.

The State Comptroller’s report in 2003 quotes the head of the Civil Administration at the time, as saying that building in illegal outposts using government funds is a well-known occurrence. In the wake of that report, the attorney general ordered government ministries to freeze the transfer of funds to settlements for a few weeks, lest they reach these outposts.

A 2005 report written by the head of the state prosecutor’s criminal affairs department Talia Sasson reviewed the involvement of the Housing and Interior Ministries, the Israel Defense Forces and the World Zionist Organization’s settlement division in the funding of illegal settlement construction.

Her report notes that other ministries, as well as local councils to which the settlements belonged were also involved in these activities.

According to the decision approved two days ago, 34.5 million shekels will go to settlements as a one-time transfer for security purposes, with the rest earmarked for emergency response teams that provide first-aid.

At the end of the meeting in which the funds were approved, Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh called on Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to investigate the legality of the funds transfer.

According to Odeh, the circumstances under which the transfer was approved raise suspicions it was done in exchange for some political benefit. He demanded to know whether there was some juridical oversight of this transfer and whether professionals were considering its cancellation.