JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government has made two overtures to West Bank settlers in the run-up to his party's leadership race on Tuesday: It's offering financial incentives to those wishing to live in dozens of settlements and is opening the door to legalizing rogue outposts.
The gestures appear to be aimed at appeasing hardline elements in the ruling Likud Party who are sympathetic to settlers.
While Netanyahu is expected to win the leadership race, a relatively strong showing by his ultranationalist rival would suggest that many Likud voters consider the prime minister too soft on peacemaking with the Palestinians.
A decade ago, the Israeli government halted generous financial enticements designed to encourage Israelis to settle in the West Bank, the occupied territory the Palestinians see as the core of their future state.
But in this week's government decision, 70 settlements appeared on a new list of 557 communities inside Israel and the West Bank that qualify for housing subsidies.
The incentives, according to a statement from the prime minister's office, are "meant to encourage positive migration to these communities."
After suspending benefits unique to the settlements, the government is now encouraging settlers to move to the West Bank under a different program, said Hagit Ofran of the anti-settlement group Peace Now.
"They put in 70 settlements, in effect encouraging them to live there," Ofran said.
The list of qualifying settlements include major enclaves that would likely remain in Israeli hands under a peace deal. But most are located deep inside the West Bank and likely would have to be dismantled.
In a separate move, the government on Monday appointed a committee to examine land ownership issues in the West Bank.
The panel will review a 2005 government report that found several dozen outposts were built not only without state approval, but on privately held Palestinian land. Officials said the report needs to be reviewed because its author later entered politics with a dovish political party, raising questions about her objectivity.