Netanyahu, Cabinet Secretary Tzvi Hauser
Netanyahu, Cabinet Secretary Tzvi Hauser Israel news photo: Flash 90

Did the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) "cook the books" in the latest vote that placed many communities in Judea and Samaria out of the national "preferred status" zones, which confer housing benefits on residents? Numerous ministers think it did.

The PMO initially published a statement that said a telephone straw poll had been carried out among all the government's ministers and that 15 had voted in favor of the decision, 10 against and the rest abstained.

However, Arutz Sheva also conducted a telephone poll among the ministers and it discovered a different picture. Arutz Sheva has learned that several ministers were not even asked for their vote.

Other ministers demanded that the vote be held again, this time publicly. The PMO listed them as abstaining.

Several ministers said that they were asked – "are you in favor of the proposal [to take Judea and Samaria communities out of the 'national preference zones']?" They replied "no," yet were listed as abstaining.

The PMO responded to these accusations by saying that the ministers' complaints had not reached the Government Secretariat and that once they did, they would be handled appropriately.

The Secretariat explained that according to the government's rules for telephone polls of ministers, "once there is a majority one way or another there is no need to keep on calling ministers." In other words, once 15 ministers out of 29 said they supported the decision, there was no need to call any more ministers. That is why four ministers were not consulted.

Judea and Samaria residents protested Sunday morning outside the Prime Minister's Office against the decision. Minister Yuli Edelstein visited the protesters and said that he had voted against the decision but was mistakenly counted as abstaining. The PMO said it was looking into the complaint.

“I will ask the Prime Minister to hold a proper discussion of the matter,” Edelstein said. “In all my years in government I cannot remember when such a sensitive topic was dealt with by a telephone vote. I am sure that if the vote had been in person, with everyone able to see how the others voted, we would have seen different results.”

Some 70 towns in Judea and Samaria had been included in the list of communities entitled for housing benefits, but following the telephone poll of ministers, this list was amended. These communities will now only be able to get the benefits if “political officials” sign off on the requests – probably meaning Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is not a fan of Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria.