MK Elazar Stern (Hatnuah) held up a 613 million shekel ($176 million) allocation to the Housing and Construction Ministry on Monday to protest the lack of transparency at a quasi-governmental agency that funds West Bank settlements.
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“Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel acts consistently against the interests of the State of Israel and against transparency,” Stern said. “A cabinet minister who acts against transparency, as expressed in last week’s session of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee concerning the settlement division [of the World Zionist Organization] and all of whose actions are in service of narrow, sectorial interests, especially when they are accompanied by integrity issues — I cannot lend a hand to entrusting him with such large sums.”
Stern was referring to the Knesset committee’s rejection of a proposal by the chairwoman of his party, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, to use the Freedom of Information Law to extract more information about the settlement division, the government’s arm for building and infrastructure work on both sides of the Green Line.
The Finance Ministry had asked the Knesset Finance Committee to approve the disbursement before the start of Passover next week. The allocation was initially approved at Monday’s committee meeting, but blocked when Stern exercised his right to call a recount.
Finance Committee chairman MK Nissan Slomiansky (Habayit Hayehudi) postponed the second round of voting, presumably because he feared the opposition MKs who had agreed to the disbursement would change their minds.
The funds for the Housing and Construction Ministry were part of a wider allocation of 1.2 billion shekels, primarily for the economy and immigrant absorption ministries and the Israel Lands Administration. The money is primarily geared toward projects that include a significant increase in sales of state land for residential purposes and the rezoning and compensation to farmers this entails, as well as projects to aid in the absorption of new immigrants from France, Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union.