Middle East Eye / August 16, 2023
Finance minister intends to submit plans despite criticism for withholding budget from Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Israel’s Finance minister plans to allocate around $180m to illegal Jewish settlements and outposts in the occupied West Bank and other “unregulated areas”. Bezalel Smotrich says his plan will boost the economy and fight crime affecting Palestinian citizens of Israel.
According to the Israeli broadcaster Kan, the money will come from the reduction of budgets at other ministries, and the proposal is set to be put forward at the coming weekly cabinet meeting, where a government decision is expected to be made.
Outposts are built by Jewish settlers in the West Bank on private Palestinian lands without government authorizations, and are often turned into official settlements.
Smotrich’s plans have been condemned after he recently decided to hold back $55m dedicated to developing Palestinian municipalities in Israel and also froze $670m meant for Palestinians in Jerusalem.
The minister also announced that he will establish a team to ensure the funds will not be misused.
Palestinians have called for a general strike next Monday to denounce the plans and protest against Smotrich’s withholding of funds. Some municipalities have said they may not open schools in September, in protest.
Smotrich’s decision comes one month after Israel’s far-right government announced plans to approve thousands of building permits for illegal settlements in the West Bank, despite pressure from the United States to halt settlement expansion.
International law deems Jewish settlements built in the West Bank since 1967 to be illegal.
Since coming to power in December, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right coalition has approved the building of 7,000 new housing units, mainly in the West Bank.
Netanyahu’s administration has also amended laws that had previously prohibited settlers from returning to four settlements in the occupied West Bank that were evacuated in 2005: Homesh, Sa-Nur, Kadim and Ganim.
Earlier this year, the US State Department said that it was “deeply troubled” by Israeli moves aimed at expanding settlement construction.
Washington described the Israeli move to discuss 4,560 housing units across the West Bank as an “obstacle to peace”.
Nearly 700,000 Jewish settlers live in more than 250 Jewish settlements and outposts across the West Bank and East Jerusalem in violation of international law.