Israel Approves Millions for Settlements Day After Netanyahu Asks Rabbis for Their Support

The Prime Minister's Bureau denies the transfer of funds is linked to Netanyahu's meeting with the rabbis, in which they asked him to support West Bank settlements

A cabinet meeting on December 3, 2017.
Marc Israel Sellem

The cabinet on Wednesday approved the transfer of 40 million shekels ($11 million) in funding for settlements in the West Bank. The approval comes a day after a group of religious Zionist rabbis met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and asked him to give higher priority to the settlements.

Netanyahu met with the rabbis to seek their support against the backdrop of two police investigations that are being conducted against him.

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The financial support approved by the cabinet includes 34.5 million shekels in a one-time security grant to Israeli local government authorities in the West Bank. The Finance Ministry will transfer 29.5 million of the sum and the Prime Minister's Office the remaining 5 million shekels. In addition, the Finance Ministry will allocate 5.5 million for West Bank first aid stations. The funding will be provided to the Health Ministry and earmarked for this purpose.

The funding is to be immediate, according to the cabinet resolution.

A cabinet member said that the resolution was only presented to the cabinet on Wednesday without prior notice, after Netanyahu's meeting with the rabbis the day before. The minister added that it was not entirely clear where the money would be going.

"I dont remember resolutions like this. There certainly haven't been many [of them], certainly not when it is not understood where and to whom [the money would be going]." Wednesday's resolution, the minister added, stated that funding criteria would be provided later.

Sources among settlement leadership however told Haaretz that the additional funding had been discussed previously and was not related to Tuesday's meeting between Netanyahu and the rabbis. Instead, they said, it involved money that is made available as budget years near an end.

The Prime Minister's Bureau also denied the transfer of funds was a result of Netanyahu's meeting on Tuesday. "The decision has no connection to the meeting with the rabbis," the statement said.

"The issue never came up in the meeting. This is a proposal that is passes every year toward the end of the budget year. It was also brought for a vote at the end of last year." The proposal resolution was "formulated during the past month and was passed [the cabinet vote] today to that it could be approved by the Knesset Finance Committee" by year's end."

Rabbis who attended the meeting also denied that the funds were linked to the meeting, saying it wasn't brought up during the meeting. "The idea that the two are connected is laughable," one said.

MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) said: "I suggest that unnamed cabinet ministers who are trying to gore the prime minister find other opportunities to do so, and not harm settlement [activity]." He called it strange to suggest that there is any link between Tuesday's meeting and the allocation of the funds.

"The funds. have been transferred to the local authorities every year for 17 years as compensation for exceptional security expenses," he added. "The authorities in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] are forced to expend very large sums on security expenses that are not directly budgeted. For reasons that are not clear, this doesn't appear in the base budget and every year it is transferred at the end of the year through a cabinet resolution."