JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's outgoing government is pumping millions of dollars into Jewish settlements in the West Bank for public buildings and roads ahead of national elections, an official said Tuesday, in what opponents view as a political ploy aimed at gaining favor with hard-line voters.
The official said the spending spree had been held up by former Finance Minister Yair Lapid of the centrist Yesh Atid party, who was fired early this month in a move that helped trigger the early election. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Lapid, who has criticized some settlement spending as a waste of money, this week asked Israel's attorney general to stop the transfer of funds, saying the move was politically motivated. Lapid said the money should go toward Israel's struggling middle class rather than for infrastructure in isolated West Bank areas that would likely be dismantled if Israel withdraws from the territory in a future peace deal.
Yesh Atid lawmaker Dov Lipman, a member of parliament's Finance Committee, said the committee's chairman, a member of the pro-settlement Jewish Home party, rushed through tens of millions of dollars in settlement projects at a stormy meeting this month after Lapid was fired. "We couldn't stop it. There was no way to stop it," he told the Times of Israel website.
He said the budget items had been placed on the agenda by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has held the finance portfolio since sacking Lapid. Netanyahu's office did not return a call seeking comment.
The Palestinians seek the West Bank, captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 war, as part of their future state. U.S.-brokered peace talks collapsed last spring, in part over settlement construction, which the Palestinians and much of the international community oppose. Israel says the dispute over settlements should be resolved through negotiations.
Many Israelis oppose a withdrawal from the West Bank due to security concerns and Jewish biblical ties to the land. The Islamic militant group Hamas overran Gaza in 2007, two years after Israel withdrew.