Itongadol.- Former finance minister Yair Lapid lashed out at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday over the approval of last-minute funding for settlements, calling it "election bribery."
Netanyahu "is holding a going-out-of-business sale of the state," Lapid charged, referring to approval of millions of shekels for settlements, including a permanent new community for former Gaza settlers and the construction of a new neighborhood over the Green Line in Jerusalem, that was hastily approved by the Finance Committee on Monday, the last day of work before the 19th Knesset dissolved ahead of March 2015 elections.
Lapid accused Likud and Bayit Yehudi of bribing settlers for votes, and told Ynet that the funds had been earmarked for transfer two months ago, but he had put the committee debate on hold once it became clear that millions of shekels were destined for isolated settlements.
"I know exactly where the money is going," said Lapid after more than 240 million shekels were handed to the settlements. "It is not for Ariel and Jerusalem, with which I would have no problem. My problem is that the money is intended for Yitzhar, Tapuach and the South Hebron Hills – the most isolated settlements… The goal is to give money to the settlers just before the primaries. If that\’s not an election bribe, I don\’t know what is."
Likud MKs were quick to respond to Lapid\’s criticism on the last-minute settlement funding.
"Yair Lapid broke new records of hypocrisy," Likud MK Yariv Lavin accused. "Lapid\’s old and ugly politics are rearing their head once more. He must\’ve forgotten that in the short time he served as finance minister, he chose to transfer many millions of shekels to local Arab municipality ruled by the Islamic Movement."
Likud MK Gila Gamliel also jumped on the opportunity to slam Lapid saying that "the former finance minister decided to run his and his party\’s elections campaign off the back of the residents of Judea and Samaria, exactly as he did to the haredi public in the last elections campaign. The residents of Judea and Samaria are as much the citizens of this state as the residents of the Negev and the Galilee. The budgets are continuous, and it\’s strange that the one who prepared the transfers that were approved is no other than Lapid himself. How did the former minister change his position a week after getting fired?"
Regarding Netanyahu\’s proposal Monday for a VAT exemption on basic foodstuffs, Lapid accused the prime minister of hypocrisy.
"This proves again and again that he has no idea about zero-VAT and about oversight. While working on the budget, Netanyahu never said a word about food prices," Lapid said. "We are not four-year-old children. This is a fake and transparent process. Not only did he not initiate it, he also sabotaged it when Hatnua proposed as legislation.
"It is pathetic, to come out against oversight in government (discussion) and then propose it yourself."
Lapid vowed to pick up where Yesh Atid had left off with a social budget, "without raising taxes, working to lower house prices and the cost of living. Yesh Atid has no obligation to the Likud Central Committee, pressure groups or workers\’ unions – only to the public."
It emerged Tuesday that not only had Netanyahu opposed the initiative to remove VAT from food products when it was raised by Hatnua MK Amir Peretz, but also in July 2013, when a similar initiative was brought up by MK Amnon Cohen of Shas.
The 2013 bill proposed a reduction in VAT on foodstuffs and healthy food, in order to reduce socioeconomic gaps in Israel. But then, when the elections were not yet on the horizon, the proposal was rejected by the government by a vote 52 to 34. Netanyahu voted against.
"Eighteen months ago I suggested a reduction in VAT on basic, regulated food products. The prime minister and the coalition were opposed," MK Cohen said Tuesday. "Now, with elections on the horizon, he is using my bill almost word for word, which he did not support and probably does not believe in."