The Israeli government is advancing a plan for an unprecedented investment of approximately 700 million NIS (and possibly even more) in settlements in the West Bank. According to the draft document we received, the scope of the plan is 671.63 million NIS (around $190m) from the 2023-2024 budget, but there are clauses that have not yet determined the allocation amounts, so the total amount is expected to increase significantly.
Some of the budgets originate from coalition agreements, meaning specific amounts allocated to the Religious Zionist Party. Previous government decisions (Decision 1561) from 2016, which allocated special funds to settlements, amounted to 71 million NIS for educational, welfare, and developmental purposes. The current proposal is ten times the amount of the proposal from just six years ago. A sum of 92 million NIS is defined as an undefined grant, allowing settlements to use the money for almost any purpose.
A significant portion of the budget will be transferred through the Settlement Division under the responsibility of the Ministry of Settlements & National Missions led by Minister Orit Strook. The Settlement Division is funded by the Government of Israel but responds to the World Zionist Organization. This non-governmental status allows the Settlement Division to avoid governmental transparency and oversight and is not required to provide information like a governmental entity. At least 95 million NIS are allocated directly to the Settlement Division. 50 million NIS are for encouraging Israeli Jewish citizens to move to settlements, and 28 million NIS are for “isolated settlements.” Many clauses that have not yet been allocated are also intended to go through the Settlement Division, so in practice, the amounts managed by it will be even larger.
Many amounts intended for infrastructure, education, and the construction of schools will enable settlers to strengthen the agricultural farms scattered across the West Bank. In the West Bank, there are more than 50 agricultural farms. These farms are mostly operated by a single family and several volunteers and cultivate hundreds and even thousands of dunams for agriculture and grazing. The possibility of funding these agricultural farms implies reinforcing one of the initiatives that lead to friction and settler violence against Palestinians. So far, dozens of cases of violence by settlers originating from these farms against Palestinians have been documented.
Part of the amounts are derived from the government’s decision to implement the coalition agreements (Decision 511). For example, in the coalition agreements, a sum of 450 million NIS is allocated for the Negev, Galilee, and outposts in the West Bank (Section 6), 300 million NIS for education in religious and ultra-Orthodox communities (Section 9), and 285 million NIS for “Jewish national identity” matters (Section 11). Additionally, under the Ministry of Settlements & National Missions led by Minister Strook, an allocation of several hundred million NIS has been approved for settlements. For instance, 75 million NIS are designated for Settlement Nucleus, 74 million NIS for security and guarding in Area C, 400 million NIS for the Settlement Division, and more.
Here are the main amounts and their impact on the settlement enterprise as presented in the government decision that will be brought to a vote in the next government meeting:
Education: 136.67 million NIS.
A sum of 40 million NIS is designated for renovations and construction of buildings used by educational institutions. Often, educational institutions represent another form of settlement expansion, taking up land, requiring security and defense measures, and housing dozens of settlers. We are also familiar with cases from the past where an educational institution has transformed into a settlement with residences, such as Gevaot, Maskiyot, Pnei Hever, and more.
Psychological Support: 12 million NIS
Additional sums were transferred to local councils and settlements, as with any community in Israel.
Programs for At-Risk Youth: 8 million NIS.
Programs for integrating and educating at-risk youth are prevalent in some settlements and in several agricultural farms and illegal outposts in the West Bank (e.g., farms in Negohot, Sde Bar).
Clubs and Community Activities: 5 million NIS.
Government support for community activities often requires community or council participation. However, in this section, clubs and community events will be fully funded by the government, without the need for community involvement.
Heritage and Education on Biblical Values and History: 13.7 million NIS.
Promotion of student visits to archaeological sites in the West Bank, including the Cave of the Patriarchs, Tel Shiloh, Sebastiya, Susya, and the Herodium. In May, the Government of Israel decided to allocate 150 million NIS for the development of archaeological and tourism settlement sites. This additional investment in settlements’ heritage and antiquities amounts to 163.7 million NIS. 1 million NIS from this budget is allocated for documenting settlers’ archives.
Assistance to Local Authorities: 188.56 million NIS.
A sum of 92 million NIS, which is defined as a special security grant. This unique grant has been provided to settlements since 2016, initially at 34.5 million NIS per year. Therefore, the current decision increases the amount to 46 million NIS per year, which local authorities can use for nearly any purpose. According to the law, the Ministry of Interior is obligated to distribute these grants to local authorities according to predefined criteria. In order to circumvent this, and to provide additional funds to settlements, special grants are devised, such as security grants, “Oslo grants,” young settlement grants, etc. This sum is added to many other allocations that local authorities in the West Bank receive. The current decision adds larger sums and increases agreed-upon grants, making even illegal outposts that are not entitled to grants be considered settlements for grant calculation.
Health: 55 million NIS.
A sum of 45 million NIS from this budget section is designated for establishing a medical center that will provide medical services in various fields: orthopedics, dialysis, imaging, emergency medicine, women’s health, pediatrics, hearing and vision services, and specialist services from health funds. Particularly in Israel’s periphery and mainly in the Negev, there is a shortage of medical centers. Hopefully, similar medical centers will be established for the Bedouin population in the Negev and the Arab population in the north.
Outposts: 27.6 million NIS.
The sum is allocated to outposts that the Government of Israel decided to regulate as neighborhoods within settlements (e.g., Zayit Raanan, Pnei Kedem, and more) and for construction in outposts whose legal status has not yet been resolved.
Diaspora Youth in Support of Settlements: 6 million NIS.
Support for Peripheral Settlements: 55 million NIS.
Settlements defined as authorities located in the periphery are the regional councils: Har Hebron, Megilot, Jordan Valley, and the local authorities: Mateh Binyamin and Kiryat Arba-Hebron. These authorities will receive a sum of 15 million NIS for renovating buildings for Jewish studies and Israel studies, and 40 million NIS for infrastructure renovation and public buildings upgrading.
Expansion of the Settler Population: 57 million NIS.
Encouraging the absorption of settlers and promoting employment: 50 million NIS, and an additional 5 million NIS for establishing student villages as a means of attracting new populations.
Strengthening Settlements in the Deep West Bank (defined as settlements under significant security threat): 28 million NIS
Peace Now:“The Government of Israel is exerting all its power and the budget at its disposal to support one specific sector at the expense of the entire public. The allocation of 700 million NIS by the current government decision is evidence of the public officials’ shamelessness in prioritizing the interests of a small group living in occupied territory over the broader Israeli society. Instead of investing in Israel’s future, the Israeli government is pouring money into settlements, perpetuating the occupation, and fueling the conflict and confrontation with the Palestinians.”