Knesset hearings began on Monday to investigate the government’s failure to collect an estimated hundreds of millions of shekels owed to it by Palestinians in Yehudah and Shomron.
In the course of a session of the Knesset’s Committee of State Control, Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) officials admitted that they have “no means of collecting debt from the Palestinian Arabs” for rental of state-owned lands.
In response, committee chairman MK Amnon Cohen (Shas) called for steps to be taken to procure the missing payments.
“We are talking here about a double standard, the hard reality of a multiple system failure which allows the Palestinians to cynically exploit the country’s land. The Department of Justice should be determined to work against the Palestinians [in this area] — just as they are with the [Jewish] Yehudah and Shomron residents when there is a breach of contract,” Cohen declared.
The inquiry was prompted by charges in the State Comptroller’s report that for the past 13 years the relevant agencies have failed to collect fees for the use of 4,500 state-owned properties.
Cohen called upon the ICA, the Department of Justice and the Treasury to formulate a procedure within the next two months to begin recovery of the money over the next 5-10 years.
In a scathing criticism of government negligence, Cohen asked Cabinet Secretary Avraham Mandelblitt to raise the issue in government talks:
“One [department] calls for restrictions on child allowances and raising the VAT, [the other department] does not collect money owed. The anarchy in Yehudah and Shomron causes neglect …, the contamination of groundwater, pirated drilling, and water theft,” said Cohen, who accused officials of “sitting around, getting paid, and not keeping track of the millions missing in the state treasury.”
Yossi Segal, the Commissioner of Lands in the ICA, explained that “we are limited in the sanctions we can impose on the Palestinian population that does not pay for use of rented buildings or farmland under our jurisdiction.”
The State Comptroller’s report was also quoted saying that no lease fees are collected from about 87 Israeli communities in the region.
Segal told the committee that an agreement for the communities has been drawn up, but the ICA lacks sufficient manpower to cover the financial needs of over 150,000 residents. Segal stated that it is a fact that Israeli villages have never been asked for lease agreements; it was “an agreement originally made with the Finance Ministry, but the Ministry has since retracted” the agreement. He further stated that the gas stations in the area have refused to pay lease agreements for several years, but that procedure will change by the end of 2014.
Amir Reshef, representing the Finance Ministry, also pleaded lack of wherewithal to collect the debts. “In 2008 we had 12 enactments planned for the sake of signing lease contracts, but it was cancelled due to budgetary considerations. We are still waiting for a legal opinion about how we can collect the debt lawfully, and regarding the exact sum to be charged.”
Advocate Keren Dahari Bin-Nun from the Department of Justice argued that the Attorney General of the ICA was only appointed last year, and that “the problem will be dealt with soon.”