Last Updated: Wed Nov 03, 2010 13:26 pm (KSA) 10:26 am (GMT)

Israel approves more funding for settlements

The decision was seen as a gesture toward settlers furious about a 10-month moratorium on new building permits (File)
The decision was seen as a gesture toward settlers furious about a 10-month moratorium on new building permits (File)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet voted more funding for Jewish settlements on Sunday as violence over a temporary settlement building freeze in enclaves in the occupied West Bank increased.

The plan has an estimated 2 billion shekels ($530 million) to improve schools, jobs and infrastructure nationwide.

About five percent of that sum, 110 million shekels ($30 million), would be set aside for about 100 Jewish settlements, an official said.

The cabinet decision was seen as a gesture toward settlers furious about a 10-month moratorium on new building permits in settlements after months of U.S. pressure.

 Rather than make peace its number one priority, Israel continues to prioritize settlements and the relentless colonization of occupied Palestinian land, rendering the two-state solution politically and economically unviable 
Saeb Erakat

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, a close ally in Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party said on Israel Radio the added funds would show settlers that despite the building freeze, Israel "also supports and reinforces" them.

The decision however infuriated the Palestinians and was likely to draw fire from the international community, which considers all Israeli settlements illegal.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat slammed the move, saying in a statement that it "reveals the extent to which Israel’s ‘settlement moratorium’ is a sham."

"Rather than make peace its number one priority, Israel continues to prioritize settlements and the relentless colonization of occupied Palestinian land, rendering the two-state solution politically and economically unviable," he said.

Rewarding settlers

 There are some small settlements who consistently constitute a source of extremists' activity 
Ehud Barak

Defense Minister Ehud Barak voted against the plan, saying it would reward settlers living in parts of the West Bank where Palestinians have lately come under attack, such as a village where parts of a mosque was torched at the weekend.

Netanyahu condemned the burning of carpets and copies of the Koran at Yasuf village near Nablus, where graffiti scrawled in Hebrew called the act "a price tag". It was similar to a slogan left by suspected settlers after other acts of vandalism.

It was a warning by some hard-line settlers to Israeli authorities that they would strike at Palestinians with the aim of raising tensions as Israeli curbs and actions against the settlements continued.

In remarks to his cabinet, Netanyahu denounced the attack on the mosque as an "especially serious crime" and said he had urged security personnel to speedily apprehend the perpetrators, a statement from his office said.

Barak, leader of the left-leaning Labor party whose cabinet ministers were those who voted against the plan, protested that it gave some settlers "greater proportional representation than their numbers," a statement said.

"There are some small settlements who consistently constitute a source of extremists' activity," Barak added, citing the weekend vandalism at the mosque in Yasuf, an assault that has sparked outrage in Israel where it dominated news headlines.

Afterwards, 21 ministers approved and five opposed a plan Netanyahu said would set "national, regional priorities" to offer incentives to areas that are home to nearly half Israel's Arab population and to towns and settlements in the periphery.

Benefitting 110,000 settlers

 We are here today in order to protest against the deed done in the mosque. By our law, divine law, this is a crime 
Menachem Froman

The new credits will benefit 110,000 settlers and can be used for vocational training programs and other educational or cultural activities.

The main settler organization, Yesha, welcomed the move, but said more steps were needed.

"It is a step in the right direction, but the route remains long," said spokesman Yishai Hollender.

The communities affected on Sunday are mainly outside the large settlement blocs Israel wants to annex under any peace accord with the Palestinians.

Officials said despite the plan Israel would continue to abide by a limited 10-month suspension in settlement building Netanyahu announced last month as part of an effort to renew stalled U.S.-backed peace talks.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has insisted on a complete halt to settlement building in territory Israel captured in a 1967 war that Palestinians wants for a state, has rejected the freeze as an insufficient step.

A group of dovish rabbis met Palestinians from the village at a West Bank roadblock, to hand over copies of the Quran and apologize for the vandals.

"We are here today in order to protest against the deed done in the mosque. By our law, divine law, this is a crime," Menachem Froman, an Israeli cleric and peace activist, said.

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