The Occupation Reinforcement Division

The government is using the WZO's Settlement Division to bolster the occupation, which is exactly why it must be made transparent.

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 Israeli flag  on a hill near the West Bank settlement of Elazar, near Bethlehem.
An Israeli flag flies over the West Bank.Credit: Reuters

We should welcome some failures.

One of them is the incident on Monday in the Knesset Finance Committee, when the chairman, Nisan Slomiansky, gave up the effort to transfer 177 million shekels ($51 million) to the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division. After Yesh Atid members joined the position of MK Stav Shafir (Labor) that no funds should be released without the public knowing where exactly they are headed, Slomiansky opted to avoid humiliation by not even putting the proposal to a vote.

Yes, postponing the embarrassment does not get rid of its roots. And these roots are connected to what happened last week, when the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee was supposed to approve the request of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni to apply the Freedom of Information Act to the Settlement Division, which has served over the past several years as the government's operational arm in building and establishing settlements and infrastructure in the territories over the Green Line, as well as in Israel.

Livni sought to put an end to the substandard culture of injecting money into the Settlement Division without any transparency. The opaqueness is allowed because the division's funding is not approved as part of the state budget, but rather obtained through general budgetary transfers in the Finance Committee.

The chairwoman of Meretz, Zahava Gal-On, asserted that "the Settlement Division’s budget rose by half a billion shekels” over the past six months and added that “the money goes to building in the territories.” However, Livni’s proposal was trumped by political manipulation of the lowest kind. The committee chairman, David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu), held a surprise vote at the beginning of the session, before most of the committee members had entered the hall. Essentially, Rotem and MK Shuli Moalem (Habayit Hayehudi) voted against Livni’s proposal, without supporters or abstainers, and the proposal failed.

Rotem’s coup is no coincidence. The right wing of the government is seeking to curry favor with the settlers in any way possible, including transferring funds that cannot be traced to their final destination. Just yesterday, in the Finance Committee, legislators approved transferring a budgetary surplus of 92 million shekels to the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria, including 23 million shekels for protecting vehicles and increasing their mobility.

The government’s attempts to transfer funds to the settlements in indirect an ways that are hidden from view are indicative of just how empty Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s words are when he talks about peace. But to reveal how the government is developing and deepening the occupation, the Freedom of Information Act has to be applied, especially to the pipelines it uses to do so, like the Settlement Division.

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