Israeli finance minister suspends West Bank settlement funds
Israel’s Finance Minister Yair Lapid has suspended the transfer of public funds to all West Bank settlements pending a probe into their alleged misuse, his office said.
Announced late Saturday, Lapid’s move was not expected to affect Israel’s controversial plans to expand illegal settlements in the West Bank, which Palestinians see as a major obstruction to the U.S.-led peace talks that were restarted by Secretary of State John Kerry last year.
Lapid’s move came after he was told “funds were allegedly transferred from settlements to the Yesha Council," which represents Israelis living in the West Bank, a statement late Saturday read, according to news agency Agence France Presse.
Since the 10-month construction freeze on West Bank settlements in 2009-2010, they receive compensation that is intended for security and maintenance of schools and kindergartens, AFP reported.
According to Lapid’s office, the funds were "allegedly being illegally channelled to the Yesha Council, which was using the money for political activities -- including against the government – [and so] the minister ordered to immediately cut the future fundings under this clause," the statement read.
The statement added that the minister has ordered an investigation into the matter, AFP reported.
According to Israeli anti-settlement think-tank Molad, the Israeli government has already transferred 148 million shekels (some $42 million) to West Bank settlements as compensation to make up for property taxes not collected on structures not yet built, according to AFP.
Lapid's decision to halt the funds to the settlements comes amid an increase in the international campaign to boycott Israeli settlements, which are considered illegal under international law.
U.S. actress Scarlett Johansson on Thursday stepped down from her post as ambassador for British NGO Oxfam after she was internationally criticized for being spokeswoman for Israeli business SodaStream, which has a factory in an illegal West Bank settlement.