One of the meta-narratives of Israel's political Left these past three or four decades has been that the settlement project costs billions, and if it didn't exist there would be lots and lots of money for worthier things. Haaretz handed the job of presenting the case this year to Akiva Eldar, a veteran reporter with great command of his material. Of course, he's also first and foremost an ideological journalist, which means that while he'll never lie, he'll routinely cast his data in the mode he thinks will best serve his agenda. This also means that if a reader has his own command of the data, Eldar's articles can sometimes lead to surprising and unintended insights.
Here's his presentation, claiming the national budget which just passed allocates more than 2 billion NIS to the settlements. Feel free to read it in its entirety before continuing with my comments.
Eldar's first omission is the overall size of the budget. It's about 350 billion NIS (the $ is currently about 3.5 NIS). Which means less than 1% of the budget goes to West Bank settlements.
How many Israelis live on the WB? That depends how you count them. If you mean all Israelis who live beyond the Green Line including in Jerusalem, it may be about 500,000, though to them you'd need to add the 270,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem who also benefit from the budget. Say, 800,000 people from a population of 7.7 million. And they're allocated less than 1% of the budget? Is this possible?
Clearly that's not what Eldar means. What does he mean? It's hard to tell, since well over a billion of the NIS he's informing us of are earmarked one way or the other for projects in Jerusalem or nearby Maaleh Adumim, yet he never mentions the cost of routine or long term services for the roughly 1,000,000 people in the area. He chooses a few projects he doesn't like, and overlooks the rest.
So far as I can see from his very opaque numbers, the sums allocated to construction of any sort in the settlements beyond the barrier, i.e. those even the Bush administration always intended to be Palestinian, can't be more than a few hundred million NIS, for a population of, I'd guess, less than 100,000.That's serious money, and I agree with Eldar it's money spent unwisely, but it's hardly more than 0.1% of the national budget. Hardly earth shattering.
Note also how he totes op the 900 million (out of 2.5 billion which are the subject of his report) allocated to three colleges on the West Bank. Say Israel were to evacuate the WB tomorrow morning: would that expense disappear? Don't the people going to college need to be budgeted no matter which hill the college is on? Not to mention that in the largest of the three, at Ariel, a sizable minority of the students are Israeli Arabs, whose education costs Eldar has just deftly counted as part of the Israeli efforts to build on the West Bank.
It would be easy to pick apart additional numbers from his report, but there's no need. Even according to his own narrative, Israel is clearly putting only minor sums into the settlement project, and even parts of that are covering expenses generated by people, not settlements, i.e they'd need covering in any case. Hardly what Haaretz and their veteran reporter hoped we'd understand from their article.
Due disclosure: I think any investment beyond the line of the barrier is a waste, since my consistent position for decades has been that Israel shouldn't be building there, even if I understand why it has. But I don't appreciate demagogic manipulations.