Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz last week signed the government's new national priority list, which grants housing and development benefits to some 660 communities, angering the residents of Israeli towns struck by Gaza rockets, which have been excluded from the list.
The minister's signature implements a government decision made in December 2009. The list of communities included on the list is based on three factors: Their distance from central Israel,
their location in an area defined as a "friction zone," and their grading in one of the six bottom slots on the social-economic ranking.
Communities included on the list are eligible for land purchase benefits worth hundreds of thousands of shekels.
Ariel. On the list (Photo: Ido Erez)
The new national priority list includes 87 West Bank settlements out of a total of 131 settlements. Some of these communities belong to the large settlements blocs, such as Ariel and Efrat, which have a relatively high social-economic ranking, and others are isolated communities like Yitzhar, Itamar and Elon Moreh.
In total, settlements make up 13% of the list, while settlers make up just 4% of Israel's population.
The decision can be partly explained by the fact that these communities are located near friction zones. In any event, the government appears to be encouraging Israelis to purchase lands in settlements like Beit El, Tapuach, Ofra and Eli, where the social-economic situation is not considered grim.
On the other hand, the cities of Ashdod, Ashkelon and Kiryat Malachi, which were hit by hundreds of Hamas
rockets in the recent round of fighting in Gaza,
have been excluded from the list despite their relatively low social-economic ranking.
Other communities excluded from the list include Lod, which was the subject of a scathing state comptroller report, Ramla, Kiryat Gat and Beit Shemesh, which has an even lower social-economic ranking.
Lod. Ongoing neglect (Photo: Yaron Brener)
The Israel Land Administration said in response that the inclusion of communities affected by Operation Pillar of Defense would be handled by the next government.
"The government's decision from December 2009 serves as the infrastructure for all city priority issues," the ILA said in a statement. "Our work in the past few months was based on the government decision and the work of the Housing Ministry. We updated the Housing Ministry parameters for the communities enjoying preference. The same criteria were applied in Judea and Samaria."
The Finance Ministry said in response that "the decision which communities to include has nothing to do with us; it's an Israel Land Administration recommendation."
Treasury officials rejected claims of political influence. "This has nothing to do with the finance minister – he just signed the decision." Finance Minister Steinitz declined comment.
House hit by rocket in Kiryat Malachi (Photo: Chabad Info)
But an ILA source said that Ashkelon – which was included in the priority list in the past – was at the center of a dispute between the two bodies. "We tried to include Ashkelon, but the Finance Ministry objected."
A Finance Ministry source responded by saying that "there were no disagreements over the decision."
Ashkelon's residents, however, were furious at the failure to include their city on the list.
"This is an outrageous decision stemming from hard-heartedness," said Mayor Benny Vaknin. "This benefit could lead to a significant population growth and strengthen Ashkelon, a city which has been dealing with extremely difficult security-related situations in recent years."
Ephraim Mishal, who is running for the position of Kiryat Malachi mayor, added: "What more has to happen in our city for the government to include us in its aid programs. A lot of blood has been shed, and the government is conveying a message that we are not on its list of priorities."
Hagit Ofran of Peace Now's research department expressed her protest over the alleged preference of Judea and Samaria communities, saying that "the government is funneling millions in excess funds to the settlements."
Matan Tzuri contributed to this report