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Middle East

Israel's cabinet approves new national priorities plan


Israel’s cabinet today approved a new national priorities plan, which will see preferential funding going to outposts in the occupied West Bank, which just a few months ago, even the Israel government considered to be illegal.

Under the plan, state grants will be available to three outposts, on security grounds. A further five settlements will also be entitled to the taxpayer funds. Outposts are Jewish camps or villages that even Israel does not consider to be legal, while settlements are considered to be illegal under international law. A number of areas inhabited by former settlers in Gaza – before the Israeli withdrawal in 2005 – were also included on the new list.

The decision, which will be welcomed by the right wingers in the Israeli cabinet, will no doubt infuriate the Palestinians, just days after the first direct peace talks between the two sides for almost three years.

Tzipi Livni, the Israeli justice minister and chief negotiator in the peace talks abstained from the vote, but is understood to have attacked the decision during the cabinet meeting.

The government said that the decision was related to security concerns, rather than any policy of settlement expansion. It comes just a fortnight after the European Union told its members that they could not enter into agreements with Israel unless it was specified that settlements were explicitly excluded. The move led to outrage on the right in Israel.

The decision to provide extra funding to the outposts and settlements comes a week after the Israeli government acceded to Palestinian demands to release 104 prisoners, who have been held since before the Oslo peace accord in 1993. The policy, which was led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, caused consternation among government right-wingers.

The first batch of prisoners is due to be released on 13 August. It is believed that 26 will be freed in what will be the first of four stages of releases.