The Map of National Folly

The new map seems to create more waste that only compounds the wrong. After all, the national priority map includes many settlements that should never have been included on any map of Israel.

It's a whitewashed term, the so-called national priority map. It's not meant to determine which areas of the country are more important, or which have been seriously disenfranchised for years. Rather, it's a historical map of national failures and grandiose aspirations that never managed to distribute the population in a proper way and create jobs that would draw skilled people.

The government tried to do what the economy's invisible hand did not; it tried to right a historic wrong by providing economic-demographic guidance. Increasing budgets for areas of national distress should draw a new high-quality population to those areas.

And so we received several maps of national priority: Housing, education, industry, agriculture and tourism. Each map carves up the country into themes, and these maps don't necessarily correlate. Despite all the distortions that go with this, such affirmative action makes sense.

Yet applying this principle to the territories is simply foolish and wrong. Not only does it give the settlements a status of national importance as though they were another area of the State of Israel, it stokes a bizarre controversy over which settlements "deserve" aid.

The new map creates an illusion that there is a national consensus regarding which settlements would remain Israeli and which would be dismantled. It thus finishes the job of the separation fence and the wasteful bypass roads in marking Israel's future border. The new map seems to create more waste that only compounds the wrong. After all, the national priority map includes many settlements that should never have been included on any map of Israel.

But it would be demagogic to claim that the extra money that will go to these fringe settlers could go toward more important matters, because that money has never gone to such matters. The great wrongdoing here is worsening the illusion that the settlements are part of the consensus, because that's the nature of the current debate - not whether the settlements are legal, but which ones are more legal.

The folly lies in how the new map renders void the decision to freeze construction in the settlements. The following is an excerpt from the government resolution in 2002 about drawing up a national priority map: "The incentives and concessions in housing are meant to bolster the socioeconomic basis of national priority areas, to facilitate the lives of second-generation inhabitants and promote the government's policy on programmed population distribution across the country."

The objective, then, is to create housing opportunities in the settlements and increase the number of settlers, along with other dubious facts on the ground. If I were settler, I would wonder what to do with government subsidies for construction at a time when the government is not granting building permits. But the diversionary tactic being performed on the settlers is not the main concern.

After the moratorium expires, in nine months, the benefits will remain. There's no expiration date. These benefits are not to compensate for lost construction days, or to soften the blow Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu allegedly dealt the settlers. It's a strategy, and not even a new one. With those benefits, the fringe settlements could become new population centers and demand a status currently reserved for the "settlement blocs" - those that merit inclusion in the new map of Israel because of the size of their populations.

And that's exactly how those blocs grew, until today it is hard to distinguish the lump from the metastasis. Does Gush Etzion include Nokdim? Does Ariel contain Tapuach? And what exactly is the south Hebron Hills bloc? The national priority map shatters the notion of blocs and eliminates the land-swap option.

This national priority map , where it concerns the territories, should be seen as an illegal expansion of existing settlements. That is, after all, how its purpose is defined. The debate over its cost will only blur the real threat it represents.