Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel allegedly has refused to transfer NIS 42 million to Israeli communities on the Gaza border because other funds have been withheld from the West Bank; Ariel countered that he simply wants to transfer the money as efficiently as possible.

Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi) has allegedly blocked the transfer of funds meant for the development of Israeli communities on the Gaza border because other funds have been withheld from settlements in the West Bank, officials in the Knesset’s Finance Committee conjectured earlier this week.

After Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli government approved a strategic multi-year plan to transfer hundreds of millions of shekels to develop Sderot and other southern Israeli communities in the Gaza border region. However, it recently became clear that the implementation of the plan has been delayed for political consideration.

When Israel has previously attempted to develop a geographic region quickly, it often turned to the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division, a fast-moving and quality contractor that is exempt from submitting tenders. Thus, the government decided to authorize the Settlement Division to carry out a number of projects to rehabilitate the Gaza border region after Operation Protective Edge in 2014. The main projects include a NIS 34 million budget to renovate the infrastructure of rural communities and a NIS 8 million budget to install backup generators for emergencies.

Uri Ariel (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Uri Ariel (Photo: Gil Yohanan)


However, after the Yisrael Beytenu corruption case and reports of corruption in the Settlements Division, the Justice Ministry stalled the transfer of all budgets to the Settlements Division and froze the Gaza border region development plan. Thus, the Finance Ministry has decided to transfer the funds directly to council leaders, who will hire the same contractors as the Settlement Division to carry out the projects.

But Ariel has refused to allow the funds to be transferred directly to the Gaza border region community leaders.

MK Haim Yellin (Yesh Atid), who served previously as the head of the Eshkol Council, said, “The implementation of the plan is being delayed because of politics, and the Gaza border region residents are suffering because of it. Uri Ariel is politicking and preventing the basic needs and security infrastructure from the Gaza border region simply out of narrow sector-related considerations.”

Following a report on Yedioth Ahronoth on Wednesday, MK Stav Shaffir (Zionist Union) asked the minister on the Knesset floor why he wasn’t permitting the transfer of funds directly to the councils.

Ariel replied, “These are important projects. I am not minimizing their importance. Everyone knows, including the heads of the regional councils, that it’s better to execute them through the (Settlement) Division.”

When pressed by Shaffir for a direct answer to his question, Ariel replied, “I’ll look into it.”

On Thursday, the minister met with the leaders of the regional councils in the Gaza border region, following which he announced, “The government and the Agriculture Ministry are working in close collaboration with the council heads, and, heaven forbid, we are not delaying even a shekel from reaching the residents of the Gaza border region.”

Ariel added that he and the government were working to transfer the money to the region “in the fastest and most efficient way possible: via the Settlement Division.”

As reported by Ynetnews