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APN Fact Sheet: The World Zionist Congress Elections

Everything you wanted to know about the election where you can influence hundreds of millions of dollars in funding

What is the World Zionist Congress?

The World Zionist Congress, composed of elected representatives from over 40 countries, meets every four years and determines World Zionist Organization (WZO) policy. It thus influences how the WZO uses hundreds of millions of dollars in funding. Roughly a quarter of the delegates to the next World Zionist Congress will be drawn from American Jewry, based on elections taking place right now. The elections will conclude on February 15, 2006.

Why does Peace Now care about the World Zionist Congress elections?

Most of the WZO's activities in programs are uncontroversial and represent a positive contribution to the State of Israel and the Jewish people. Unfortunately, however, this is not the case with all the WZO's activities. Of particular concern is the well-documented connection between the WZO and the establishment of new settlements, also called outposts, in the West Bank. Indeed, a report commissioned by the Sharon government (the "Sasson Report") found that the WZO's Settlement Division played a key role in initiating new outposts.

What can you do?

Representation of progressive forces in the upcoming World Zionist Congress can influence how the WZO will deal with its complicity in the establishment of illegal outposts and in terms of other issues. Register and vote in the World Zionist Congress by visiting www.congressofthejewishpeople.org.

Background on the WZO and the Settlements Division

Founded by Theodore Herzl more than 100 years ago, the WZO originally served as a political home for activists trying to establish a Jewish state. After Israel's establishment in 1948, the WZO and its sister organizations - the Jewish National Fund and the Jewish Agency for Israel - continued to serve important semi-governmental functions. In the 1970s, the WZO's mandate was redefined to include programs to encourage immigration to Israel, provide Zionist education outside of Israel, assist the government of Israel in establishing new communities, and help Jewish communities inside and outside of Israel.

Peace Now has long been concerned about the activities of the WZO's Settlements Division. This concern reached new levels in recent years, when it became clear that the Settlements Division was involved in the establishment "outposts" in the West Bank - proto-settlements established without official Israeli government permission. In March 2005, former State Prosecutor Talia Sasson submitted to the Israeli Government a detailed report about the illegal establishment of new settlements (known as the "Sasson Report"). Her report confirmed what Peace Now had been saying for years: that some governmental and semi-governmental agencies were quietly involved in the establishment of around 100 new settlements. The report - which describes fraud, efforts to obstruct the investigation, illegal diversion of government funds, and illegal seizure of private-owned Palestinian land - singles out three agencies for particular attention: the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Housing and Construction, and the WZO's Settlements Division.

The Settlements Division is a department of the WZO that is charged with aiding the government of Israel in establishing and developing towns, not only within Israel, but also in the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and the Gaza Strip. The Sasson Report found that the Settlements Division overreached its mandate - and broke Israeli law - by actively aiding and abetting the establishment of new settlement outposts without the permission of the government.

The Sasson Report enumerates illegal actions by the Settlements Division to support these new settlements, finding that the Division systematically exceeded its mandate by developing land that it was only asked to develop plans for, misappropriating land to settlers in violation of its agreements with other government bodies, funding illegal outposts, ignoring the required planning and approval mechanisms, and establishing outposts on lands that are not publicly owned.

The Sasson Report also made extensive recommendations to deal with the problems surrounding the establishment of illegal outposts. These included calls for new legislation, provision of resources for law enforcement agencies, clarification of executive and government orders, and bureaucratic reform. Specifically regarding the Settlements Division, Sasson recommended reforming the Division and to have it return land that it had misused to its legal owners.

The Sasson report did much to bring attention to the outpost issue. However, it has had little impact - so far - on the ground. The Israeli cabinet formed a committee to take further action on implementing the report's recommendations. Unfortunately this committee has taken little action.

After the Settlements Division refused to enact the Sasson report's recommendations, progressive members of the WZO's Executive Board forced the issue of freezing the Settlement Division's activities onto an the agenda of the Executive Board. Unfortunately, the WZO followed the precedent of the Israeli cabinet and dealt with the matter only be appointing a committee. A resolution was also presented to implement the recommendations of the Sasson commission.

The future of the Settlement Division is a key issue for the upcoming World Zionist Congress. Some activists have called on the Congress to disband the Division.

Where can I learn more about the elections and the candidates?

Supporters, staff, and members of the board of Americans for Peace Now have joined a number of slates that are competing in this election. APN, however, has not endorsed any slate.

We encourage you to learn more about the different slates running in this election at http://www.congressofthejewishpeople.org/platforms.html#. Please visit that site, register to vote, and vote so that the peace camp can be represented at this congress.