Israel's right-wing government has authorized a special aid package for Jewish West Bank settlements. The decision has been attacked by the opposition for undermining Israel's security and international standing.
Israel Radio reported on Sunday that Israeli ministers unanimously approved the transfer of at least 62 million Israeli shekels ($18 million or 16 million euros) for the "assistance plan."
Ahead of Sunday's vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet the funding would strengthen security, assist small businesses and encourage tourism.
The monetary aid will also be used to strengthen temporary structures to make them "more secure," as well as for social services, including counseling for victims of violence.
'Slap in the face'
Opposition lawmakers criticized Sunday's decision, arguing that instead of boosting Israel's struggling periphery, the government was pouring money into an enterprise that undermined Israel's security and international standing.
"Israel is doing everything possible to sabotage every effort to achieve a just and lasting peace," Palestine Liberation Organization secretary-general Saeb Erekat in a statement, adding that the move was a "slap in the face" for the international community.
Some 600,000 Jewish people currently live in the settlements, which were built on the West Bank and in east Jerusalem on lands captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 war. The international community widely regards Israel's West Bank settlements as illegal. Under international law, the transfer of a state's population to occupied territory is forbidden. Israel, however, denies that the West Bank is occupied, calling it "disputed territory" instead.
The settlements have also proved to be a major obstacle in peace efforts as they are built on land Palestinians view as part of their future state.
The area has experienced a wave of violence in recent months, with several Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers.
More than 200 Palestinians - many of them knife attackers - and 33 Israelis have been killed in the violence. The unrest was reignited in October, 18 months after the last peace negotiations collapsed.
kb/jm (AFP, dpa)