J Street’s blog aims to reflect a range of voices. The opinions expressed in blog posts do not necessarily reflect the policies or view of J Street.
Earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon gave their approval for the construction of 200 new units of settlement housing. Some will be inside the major settlement blocs, while others are in far-flung outposts deep into the West Bank. While Netanyahu subsequently claimed that the plans referred to additions to specific houses, Ha’aretz, after studying the plans, found evidence that they included new construction.
The announcement is just the latest sign that Israel’s current government is prioritizing settlement expansion and the settlement movement – seemingly without regard for its impact in undermining the two-state solution and increasing Palestinian distrust and resentment.
Settler advocates like Education Minister Naftali Bennett and recently appointed Consul General in New York Dani Dayan have made no secret of the fact that they consider the settlements and outposts over the Green Line to be fully part of Israel – no different than Tel Aviv or Sderot. But in fact, the Israeli government has gone above and beyond this – they’ve been giving West Bank settlers preferential treatment.
Last week, Ha’aretz detailed a distressing – but unsurprising – report on the Israeli resources allocated towards settlement construction in the West Bank:
The study, conducted by the Macro Center for Political Economics, shows that the additional budgets the government transfers to settlement residents and local governments grew 28.4 percent in 2015 over 2014, to 1.41 billion shekels ($369.1 million). The outlay per capita for the residents of Judea and Samaria came to 3,904 shekels – 14 percent more than the public spending per capita in the Negev, 28 percent more than in the Galilee and 100 percent more than the public spending on residents of the center.
The article and report are full of disturbing figures about the money the Israeli government allocates towards the settlement enterprise versus other places in Israel within the Green Line. This is important because funding in Israel’s periphery– the often poorer towns further away from Israel’s major metropolitan centers inside the Green Line — is a hotly contested political issue. Many of the residents of these towns are in desperate need of government investment, but the Ha’aretz report indicates that the Israeli government is spending its money elsewhere:
“In 2015 settlement residents got a total of 570.1 million shekels, reflecting higher per capita funding than the average anywhere else in the country. Residents of all settlements got an average 3,904 shekels annually per capita, 61 percent more per capita than residents elsewhere, who got 2,364 shekels. Jews living in the far-flung settlements east of the separation barrier, meanwhile, received 6,165 shekels annually, a whopping 158 percent per capita more than residents elsewhere. Residents of the center get only 1,958 shekels annually.
Settlement residents also get 500 shekels more per capita than residents of the Negev, and 900 shekels more than residents of the north, even though those are defined as national priority areas.”
The report also points to a clear increase in settlement construction over the last two decades, and projects that the cost of the settlement enterprise will continue to rise over the next several years:
“The report also noted that over the past 17 years, home construction in the settlements in terms of built area has increased 105 percent, from 4.85 million square meters in 1998 to 9.97 million square meters in 2015. The researchers pointed out that home values in the settlements continue to rise, and that an evacuation of some or all of the settlements, assuming each family got $400,000 in compensation, would cost between $4 billion and $10 billion, depending on the scope of the withdrawal. Continued expansion of the settlements would only raise that cost in the future, they noted.”
This massive investment in the settlements should be of great concern for all those who support a two-state solution. There are dozens of communities in Israel of desperate need of investment and support from the government, which is instead being funnelled to the settlements, entrenching the occupation and putting Israel’s Jewish and democratic future at risk.
Some Israeli leaders are speaking out about this disturbing trend. As a champion of fiscal transparency and economic justice, Zionist Union MK Stav Shaffir has shone a spotlight on secret budgetary transfers and demanded that they stop. She has been a fierce advocate for the Israeli periphery, and a staunch opponent of the settlement’s preferential treatment. Earlier this week, she told around 500 people in attendance at J Street San Diego and J Street Los Angeles events about her efforts to end these practices – and she’ll bring that message to an even bigger audience on Monday evening, when she will address J Street’s 2016 National Gala in Washington, DC.
Benjy Cannon is the 2015-2016 Mikva Fellow at J Street. He’s on Twitter at @benjycannon
Logan Bayroff is a Senior Communications Associate at J Street. He’s on Twitter at @Bayroff