The Israeli Government's Bonus for Settlements: NIS 1,059,988,790

On August 2nd, 2012, Yedioth Ahronoth (Hebrew print edition) published a powerful article looking at the financial bonus that settlements enjoy compared to areas inside the Green Line.   The article comes on the heels of Peace Now's publication of an analysis of the budget and a plan to save billions by reducing some benefits to settlements. 

The translation is by Israel News Today (INT).

Bonus for Settlements: NIS 1,059,988,790

Yedioth Ahronoth (p. 4) by Gad Lior and Yuval Karni -- While the middle class is bowing under the weight of  rising taxes and an expected cutback in the budget of the government ministries, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was asked about the special budgets transferred every year to the settlements.  "These are negligible amounts," Netanyahu said, "it's a drop in the ocean."  But an examination of the data shows that the amount in question reaches over NIS 1 billion per year--hardly a "negligible" amount.

Data provided by the Central Bureau of Statistics show that the percentage of residents of Judea and Samaria from the total population in Israel has remained stable in the past years--in 2002 this amounted to about 212,000 people who were about 4% of the population, whereas in 2010 this reached 311,000 people, but their percentage of the population remained the same.  However, the special budgets transferred in the past decade to the settlements have known ups and downs--and enjoyed a boom in the period of the Netanyahu government. 

Do the residents of the settlements deserve to enjoy the benefit of excess budgeting?  Some may say they do and some may say they don't.  But the question is not a moral one but rather a factual one: Does this refer to "negligible amounts" as the prime minister argues.  The answer, according to data provided by the Central Bureau of Statistics, is no.The special budget in question refers to the unique expenses of residents of the settlements: It does not include the services given to residents of the settlements as citizens of the state, i.e. services that are granted to every citizen within the Green Line as well; it also does not include the unique security and fortification expenses needed by the settlers, due to the fact that they live near the Palestinian population.  Therefore, this refers to additional budgets only--the state's investment in the development of the settlements.

The size of the special budget in the past decade has been significantly influenced by the identity of the government at the time: Ariel Sharon's government gave the settlements relatively high amounts, which reached as much as NIS 1.7 billion in 2003; during Ehud Olmert's period as prime minister, the amount dropped, reaching about NIS 773 million; and since Binyamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister an increase has been recorded, and now the amount equals over NIS 1 billion. Over the years, the population of the settlements has grown by about 50%, and therefore, relatively to its size and in a broad perspective of ten years, the budget has been reduced.  However, in 2011 the special budget increased by about 30%, despite the fact that in this period the population in Judea and Samaria grew by less than 5%. 

The budget data are based on figures provided by the Central Bureau of Statistics, as given to Peace Now, and the Finance Ministry also makes use of them.  The data also refer to budgets transferred to the Golan area, but only a few thousand residents live there. The data presented by the Central Bureau of Statistics also show that the settlements have received in recent years an average budget that is high relative to their share of the population in several realms: Their share of the population is 4%, but they received an average of 13.6% of the Education Ministry's construction budget, 11.5% of the agricultural investment grants and 15.1% of the development budgets for new industrial zones. 

In addition, an increase has taken place over the years in some of the government budgets transferred to the settlements: The education budget, which stood at NIS 32.3 million in 2003, soared to NIS 145.2 million in 2011--a figure that does not match the natural increase in these areas--and the budget transferred from the Transport Ministry increased from NIS 10.7 million in 2003 to NIS 27.3 million.  Conversely, in some of the budgets of the ministries, a decrease was noted.  Among other things: The Housing Ministry transferred NIS 533 million to the settlements in 2003, and in 2011 it transferred NIS 87.8 million.  In addition, the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry cut [its budget for settlements] from NIS 27.7 million in 2003 to NIS 10.2 million in 2011.

Not only do the numbers contradict Netanyahu's statement, but also Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz.  In an interview given by Steinitz to Makor Rishon this past April, he took pride in the aid given to the settlements by the government in which he serves.  "I don't want to get into the numbers," he said, "but it can be said that the aid to settlements in Judea and Samaria and the Golan grew by several dozen percent in my term as finance minister." The Settlers Council stated in response: "The residents of Judea and Samaria are not eligible today for any unique benefits, certainly not in taxes.  In the past decade, the public investment in Judea and Samaria has shrunk by half, whereas the population has doubled.  The attempt to play around with the data in order to make a misrepresentation is childish and pathetic.  But beyond this--settlement is a national value, not an economic business."  Settlers Council Chairman Danny Dayan added: "The report is filled with outrageous statistical manipulations.  For example, it addresses the percentage of Judea and Samaria residents from the general population instead of their percentage among the pupils.  If the correct figures had been taken, it would have been shown that we are deprived."