Israel approves preferential treatment for West Bank settlements

13:35, December 14, 2009      

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The Israeli cabinet on Sunday endorsed a list of national priority areas eligible for extra funds and benefits, which included some Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

About two million Israelis in total out of the country's seven million population will be covered in the plan, submitted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reported local news service Ynet, adding that about 40 percent of the beneficiaries are non-Jewish.

"It includes benefits in the fields of education, employment and infrastructure... The issue of defense is also addressed," Netanyahu was quoted as saying at Sunday's cabinet meeting.

Among the priority areas designated by the plan, which was passed by a landslide but opposed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak and other Labor Party ministers, are a number of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, with their total population at about110,000, according to local daily Ha'aretz.

Citing the recent vandalization of a West Bank mosque probably by radical settlers, Barak warned that some of the funds allocated to settlements would end up in the hands of such right-wing extremists.

"I don't think that we need to award them a prize in the form of including them in the national priority map," Barak was quoted as saying.

The plan was widely seen as a bid by the Netanyahu administration to appease right-wing settlers and politicians, who have been criticizing and resisting a 10-month moratorium on new construction projects in West Bank settlements declared by Netanyahu late last month.

Israel has dubbed the construction freeze a rare compromise by the Jewish state and urged the Palestinians to resume the stalled peace talks.

Yet the Palestinian side accuses Israel of not being genuine, as the ban excludes some 3,000 settlement homes already approved as well as construction activities in East Jerusalem.

The Palestinians have stressed that they will not return to the negotiation table until Israel totally halts construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Source: Xinhua
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