Settlers Dealt New Blow As Cabinet Investigates Subsidies and Tax Breaks

The settlers movement, still reeling from the dramatic housing cuts announced last week, received another blow from the Israeli cabinet.

In its weekly meeting Sunday, the cabinet set up a committee to investigate the benefits received by settlers in the administered territories. The tax breaks, discount mortgages, and subsidized power and water that have drawn thousands of non-ideological Israelis to the settlements are likely to be rescinded.

For their part, the settlers are planning campaigns to continue construction without government funding, and to fill up the many apartments built in the past two years which still lie vacant. Also under discussion are massive protests and legal challenges to the new government’s policies.

Threats of violence were also being heard. Both Housing Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Finance Minister Avraham Shohat have received threatening phone calls. It was those two ministers who last week cancelled contracts and plans for 6,681 housing units in the territories.

Noam Federman, an activist with the extremist Kach movement, said if the government did not back down on its new policy, he “would not be surprised,” if “people will be hurt, not only (Ben-Eliezer), but also other ministers.”

A more moderate reaction was issued by Aharon Domb, the spokesman for the Jewish settlements in the administered territories. He said that no one intends to hurt the minister, and that the conflict would be carried out “in a public manner.”

BEN-ELIEZER WARNS AGAINST VIOLENCE

Ben-Eliezer said that attempts by settler leadership to dictate government priorities were futile.

“They used violent methods also during the Likud government. This will be no more,” he told Israel Radio.

Ben-Eliezer met Sunday with a delegation of Jewish mayors from the territories.

“It was no picnic,” said the mayors, after trying to persuade him that the announced $410 million cuts in spending on the territories was too drastic and worked contrary to the government’s own policy.

They were particularly upset by the government’s decision to cancel several new roads. Even under the autonomy plan, those roads were neces- sary for strategic supervision of the West Bank, they said.

On the other end of the political spectrum. Labor’s main coalition partner, Meretz, also voiced dissatisfaction with the government’s building policy in the territories. The cuts were too minimal, Meretz argued.

Al Hamishmar, the daily newspaper of Meretz’ Mapam faction, proclaimed in a banner headline, “Meretz will find it difficult to remain in the government, which builds housing units for yet another 50,000 settlers.”

However, sources inside Meretz said the party had no intention of quitting the coalition because of the housing policy.

The freeze announced last week covered mostly units for which contracts have been signed but construction not yet begun and units only in the planning stages. It did not deal with another roughly 10,000 housing units already under way in the territories, which Meretz says could provide homes for another 50,000 settlers.

“We do not threaten that we shall not sit in the government,” said Knesset Member Haim Oron, “but according to the guidelines of the new government, Meretz does not regard itself responsible for the settlement of 50,000 to 60,000 new settlers in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.”

It seems likely, however, that the government will soon suspend work on thousands of apartments already under construction. More than 2,300 units at the foundation stages have been temporarily suspended, and it is expected that work will also be stopped on at least 1,600 units even further under way.

In accordance with Rabin’s distinction between “security” and “political” settlements, construction was not frozen on 1,686 units in the greater Jerusalem area, including settlements such as Ma’aleh Ephraim, Efrat, Betar and Ma’aleh Adumim.

But it remains to be seen whether U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, who has insisted that all settlements are an obstacle to peace, will allow construction to proceed in those areas.

NEXT STORY