Israel’s Finance Minister Yair Lapid halted the transfer of government funds to Yehudah and Shomron communities and ordered a probe into allegations that money meant for infrastructure costs had been used for political purposes.
The money in question had been earmarked to cover security and building maintenance fees that were incurred when Israel froze building for 10 months during 2009 and 2010, the Finance Ministry said in a statement.
But some of the money may have illegally made its way to Yesha [the regional council of Yehudah and Shomron] to be used for political purposes, including activities that run counter to government policy, the ministry claimed.
Lapid ordered payments to be “stopped immediately” until the results of an investigation to determine within the week where the funds had gone.
Ynet reported that, over the past four years, the government had transferred 148 million shekels ($42 million) to the municipalities to help compensate them for income lost as a result of the 10-month freeze, declared under U.S. pressure to help restart peace talks.
Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni said that she would demand an investigation of the matter, adding that Minister of the Economy Naftali Bennett was chairman of Yesha in that year.
Current Yesha Council head Avi Roeh downplayed the issue. “We think it is fine to investigate, to examine, to clarify. In the end, the mountain will turn out to be a molehill,” Roeh told Army Radio on Sunday.
While conceding some funding did make its way to the Yesha Council, the reporter who claimed 80% of the money went to the council had it backward. “It’s the opposite, 80 percent stayed in local communities, and 20 percent went to the Yesha Council,” he said.
In any case, such transfers are completely legal, he asserted, and that the municipalities agree to help fund Yesha it because it represents their interests. “We represent all of the municipal authorities, and fight for all of them opposite government ministries,” he said.
“Everything has been done with complete transparency. We have been examined under a magnifying glass,” he said. “There was no problem in the past, and there will be no problem in the future.”