Netanyahu supports freezing grants for Palestinian areas: Israel MK says

Middle East Monitor  /  August 8, 2023

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich confirmed today that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is backing his decision to suspend a higher education plan for occupied East Jerusalem, amidst increasing public outcry and allegations of racism.

Smotrich reiterated that funds allocated for economic development in Palestinian municipalities in the apartheid state will not be transferred as initially planned.

He told the Kan public broadcaster: “I am coordinating with the prime minister. I met with him, and I explained it to him and he supports this position. I received his agreement.”

“The decision is final, the budget will not be transferred,” Smotrich added. “If we find real ways to really transfer money to the Palestinian citizens of Israel, then we will help where necessary.”

The head of the Religious Zionism Party claimed that his decision was taken to prevent the funds from falling into the control of organized crime. He also claimed that promoting higher education among Palestinians in East Jerusalem fosters extremism and therefore, does not align with Israeli interests.

The current government, he explained, is “not beholden” to a promise made by former Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked to Ra’am Party chief Mansour Abbas.

In response, opposition head Yair Lapid this morning slammed Smotrich on Twitter, stating that “Contrary to his lies, the budgets frozen by Smotrich for Palestinian local authorities are not related to the ‘commitment of the previous government’ to the Arab [Palestinian] sector.”

“Smotrich mistreats Arab [Palestinian] citizens simply because they are Arabs,” he continued, adding that he is “ashamed that racism has become an official policy of the state of Israel.”

The freezing of funds for the education of Palestinians in East Jerusalem comes despite education and security officials, including the Shin Bet chief and Israel’s National Security Council, saying that funding higher education for Palestinians would decrease terrorism.

Israeli Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel criticized Smotrich’s decision, emphasizing that the inclusion of the Palestinian population in academia holds significant social, economic and security benefits.