Israel’s Cabinet approves priority areas map

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s Cabinet approved a new map of priority areas, including millions of shekels for dozens of West Bank settlements.

The vote Sunday was 21 votes to 5. The five votes against the plan were from Labor’s five ministers.

The ministers also decided to create an exceptions committee. The committee will have 30 days to decide whether to add Ashkelon to the list of communities and whether to exclude settlements outside of the security fence. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, head of the Labor party, told the Cabinet that the national priorities map "disproportionately represents" residents of isolated settlements and gives a "prize" for right-wing extremism, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Some 91 out of 121 settlements are on the list, including several settlements in isolated West Bank areas beyond the security barrier, according to reports, representing about 120,000 people. In addition, the inclusion of Arab Israelis represented by the new map has risen from 8 percent to 40 percent. The map also reportedly does not include areas where Gush Katif evacuees from Gaza live.

About 1.9 million people are included in the priority areas of the map.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, at the beginning of the cabinet meeting, told the ministers that the new map was an attempt to draw the periphery closer and close the gaps that exist between the different areas of the country.

"In the decision that will are submitting today, two million citizens are included," Netanyahu said.  "Approximately 40% of the State of Israel’s non-Jewish citizens are included in this decision.  We are providing benefits in education, employment and infrastructures.  We are also trying to provide tangible aid to those who bear the security burden every day.  We will hold a discussion and decide; I am sure that we will make the best decision."

The proposed map was widely released last week in advance of the Cabinet meeting.

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