JERUSALEM - The Israeli cabinet voted yesterday to pour millions of dollars of new social-welfare funding into Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including several hard-line communities that have put up fierce resistance to government-imposed construction restrictions.
The vote caused an unusual rift in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet, with centrist members accusing the Israeli leader of caving in to pressure from extremists.
Netanyahu announced his spending plan last week, saying it would grant funds for transportation, education, and health care to distressed areas throughout the country.
But the inclusion of some Jewish settlements, particularly isolated communities known for their hard-line populations, drew accusations that he is trying to buy off settlers who are furious over the new limits on construction in their communities.
No exact figure has been given for the proposed spending, but government spokesman Mark Regev said it was likely to be millions of dollars.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, leader of the centrist Labor Party, said the spending plan gave disproportionate weight to the isolated settlements. Among them are Kiryat Arba and Kedumim, deep in the West Bank, where residents have harassed and blocked inspectors sent to enforce the construction moratorium.
"There are a number of small settlements that are routinely a source of extreme behavior," Barak said, insisting that they should not be rewarded with funds.
He pointed to the torching of a West Bank mosque on Friday - an unsolved attack in which West Bank Jewish extremists are suspected. No arrests have been made.
After the mosque torching, a Palestinian stabbed an Israeli woman in the West Bank and two rock'ets were fired at Israel from Gaza.
The Israeli military said the woman was not seriously wounded in the attack late Saturday. No injuries were reported from the rocket fire yesterday, the latest violation of a halt on rocket salvos Gaza militants declared last month.
In yesterday's vote, the cabinet approved the new spending plan, 21-5, with all five Labor ministers voting against it.
Netanyahu has defended the plan, known as the "map of national priorities," by stressing it would help two million Israelis, including large numbers of Arab citizens. About 100,000 settlers, or one-third of the Jewish population of the West Bank, would benefit.
"We will determine the future of settlements only within the framework of a permanent agreement with the Palestinians," Netanyahu told his cabinet.
Netanyahu last month announced a 10-month moratorium on the construction of new homes in the West Bank. He said the move was aimed at jump-starting peace talks with the Palestinians, who refuse to return to negotiations until Israel halts all settlement activity.
However, the Palestinians rejected the settlement slowdown as insincere because it does not include 3,000 houses already under construction in East Jerusalem, the section of the holy city the Palestinians claim as the capital of their future state.