The news of the day is the unprecedented decision by Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that isolated settlements in the West Bank – areas slated to be under Palestinian control, will be recognized as 'National Priority Areas'. It may be unrelated, but thousands demonstrated here in Jerusalem last night and called on the Prime Minister to cancel the construction freeze that is now, technically, underway.
There is no missing the double message here. Despite the building freeze, Mr. Netanyahu intends to declare that the West Bank is a national priority and thus transfer hundreds of thousands of shekels of taxpayer money to these remote and isolated settlements. Indeed – much of the Israeli press is saying that the temporary freeze is profiting the settlers, particularly that after the building freeze finishes; Mr. Netanyahu has approved various grants and financial benefits to the settlements outside the settlement blocs.
On top of all this, Defense Minister Ehud Barak is reportedly slated to issue new order to ease construction restrictions.
But all this attention to the settlers is a bit un-easing to some in Israeli society. Many have voiced concerns that investing in settlements instead of in developing towns is a mistake – and a bow to the Religious community. Politically there is some outrage among the opposition parties of Kadima and Labor. They believe that Netanyahu's decision to grant benefits to settlers via a 'national priority area' makes second-class citizens of the Negev and Galilee towns that are struggling for their status in the country.
“Regardless of these details, it seems the Government decided on a construction freeze in the West Bank in order to check the Palestinians' will towards making peace. For their part, the Palestinians are still refusing to negotiate.
Tune into the Harvest Show tomorrow for my update on the latest developments.
Middle East Correspondent