Harsh criticism was leveled at the move during a meeting of Labor ministers Thursday. The Labor ministers agreed that they will take action to change the map of national priority areas regarding certain West Bank settlements that they believe cannot justifiably be made into preferred settlements.
Among the settlements added to the list of regional priorities are no small number of isolated settlements that are not part of settlement blocs east of the separation fence. They include: Itamar, Alon Moreh, Tapuah, Bracha, Kiryat Arba, Adora, Bat Ayin, and Nokadim.
Also included in the list is the Jewish neighborhood in Hebron, in which, according to Peace Now figures, live 143,425 people.
Areas designated as "national priority A" are granted government benefits and incentives in education, housing, urban development, labor, and infrastructure.
Weighed in the decision on which towns to include in the list were the town's security situation, its economic and social fortitude, the level of services offered, population distribution planning, geographic location, distance from the center of the country, gaps in the population, and the level of burden to absorb new immigrants.
Most of the meeting's participants criticized the move, including Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Avishay Braverman, Isaac Herzog, and Daniel Ben-Simon. They demanded that only settlements located in settlement blocs be bolstered. "It was clear that action needed to be taken for changes in the map," said one of the ministers.
Labor Chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak responded in vague language: "There are certain considerations that are legitimate, and there are considerations that need additional examination."
It was agreed upon in the meeting that talks will be held on the matter with the Prime Minister's Office and that the defense minister's advisor on the settlements will also be involved.
Cabel: Saving settlements instead of Tefron
MK Eitan Cabel, one of the Labor 'rebels', sent a scathing letter Thursday to his party's cabinet ministers: "Whom exactly are you saving? The employees of the Tefron factory? The collapsing periphery? The middle class? The city of Ashkelon, all of whose benefits have been cancelled?"
"Gentlemen, in the past few hours, news that the government you are members of is about to declare isolated settlements as development areas has come out," wrote Cabel. "These are settlements whose socio-economic level is very good, settlements that will not remain in our hands in any final status map because the vast majority of them are outside the settlement blocs."
According to Cabel, these settlements "have nothing to do with the ideology for which you were elected, and to them the government will transfer funds while you remain in the government. Vote against this during Sunday morning's vote and explain in the afternoon that there is no other choice; that you are saving the people of Israel by sitting in the extreme right government; that if you weren't members of the government, our situation would be much worse."
"I understand that you have already given up on the banner of peace," added Cabel. "If you hadn't given up on it, you wouldn't have kept quiet as the prime minister announced that he will return to building in the West Bank at the end of the 10 months of the so-called freeze. But have you given up on the rest of the social banner remaining in the party? Do the settlers really need this money that is so needed in so many corners of the country?"
On the Labor chairman and defense minister, Cabel wrote: "I have already given up on Ehud Barak. He long ago lost all connection with reality and the Israeli public and has proved it time and again. But you – are you, like him, so connected to the power that has blinded your eyes from seeing the injustices you, too, are responsible for as ministers in this government? You have forgotten from whence you came, and you have no idea where you are headed as you call me and my colleagues 'rebels.'"
MK Amir Peretz, another member of the four Labor 'rebels,' joined in the protest: "The decision to recognize isolated settlements as national development areas seems in essence like another attempt to create a sedative for the settlers. Using the defense excuse is out of place.
"The situation in the West Bank will only improve. This decision damages the chances for peace and creates another negative dynamic, further oppresses the development areas in the periphery in the Negev and the Galilee. Comparing the conditions in the settlements to those in the periphery will only accelerate investments beyond the Green Line, mainly in industry at the expense of development towns," said Peretz.
Peace Now does not see any justification in adding the isolated settlements to the national priority map. According to figures published Thursday by the organization, many of the settlements added to the list have quite satisfactory socio-economic levels, certainly better than many towns within the Green Line that don't receive government incentives.
Peace Now claimed that the plan "is an anti-social proposal that seeks strengthen the strong on the backs of the weakest populations in the society."