The government has decided to exclude 70 West Bank settlements from the list of national priority areas, Ynet has learned Thursday.
The list asserts which towns across the country are to receive grants and benefits aimed at boosting the communities' economy and making them more attractive for new residents and investors.
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On Sunday, the government voted to approve an updated version of the list, which included the 70 settlements. A day later, it was proposed to remove towns that are located beyond the Green Line from the priority map; the initiative was put up to a telephone vote, and was passed by a 15-10 margin. Several ministers abstained from the vote.
Government sources estimate that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was concerned that including the settlements in the list will hurt the latest efforts to restart the peace talks with the Palestinians. Due to this fear, the West Bank communities were deemed ineligible for automatic aid.
The settlements can still apply for incentives, but the decision to grant them these benefits is left up to the government.
Netanyahu with Ban Ki-Moon earlier this week (Photo: Reuters)
Settlers and officials leveled criticism at the government for passing the measure.
"It was a behind-the-scenes trick," one official said. "This story was covered up."
Some officials claimed that the exclusion was tied to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon's visit to Israel, saying that it was Netanyahu's attempt to uphold his commitment to the US and Europe that the government won't do anything that might encourage settlement construction.
"The Americans must have exerted pressure to reverse the decision," one minister said.
The Prime Minister's Office refused to release the names of the ministers who votes for or against the measure.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu said in a joint press conference with the visiting UN chief that the government's approval of the initial, inclusive list was a mistake.
"When we realized what
happened, we fixed it with a telephone vote," he said.
Netanyahu denied caving to international pressure on the matter.
Yesha Council Chairman Danny Dayan sent a letter to government ministers, urging them to rescind the exclusion of the settlements.
"It's a grave decision blatantly discriminating against the West Bank settlements," Dayan wrote. He further asked the ministers to hold another debate on the matter at the Knesset plenum.
Yair Altman contributed to the report
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