JERUSALEM -- With peace talks scheduled to begin next week, an Israeli cabinet decision involving West Bank settlements on Sunday drew condemnation from the Palestinian leadership, highlighting the fragility of the Washington-brokered effort to resume long-stalled negotiations.
The cabinet decision added a number of Jewish settlements in the West Bank territory that Israel seized in the 1967 war to a "national priority list" of communities eligible for extra subsidies for education, housing, infrastructure projects, cultural programs and sports, along with better mortgage rates and loans for new homeowners. The United States, along with most of the world, considers these settlements illegal, and some of them sit in the heart of the area imagined as a future Palestinian state.
"The Israeli government has approved a confidence-destruction measure," Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's executive committee, said in a statement. "Israeli attempts to grab more Palestinian land and to provide settlers with preferential treatment will not be tolerated." The Associated Press quoted Ms. Ashrawi as saying that the decision would have "a destructive impact" on the talks.
In a routine annual move, the cabinet approved a list of more than 600 Israeli communities -- about 90 of them West Bank settlements -- eligible for the benefits, based on criteria like socio-economic status, location near Israel's borders, security vulnerability and newness. Among the newcomers to the list are three formerly illegal outposts -- Bruchin, Rachelim and Sansana -- that obtained government recognition last year.
Tzipi Livni, the Israeli minister leading the negotiations, was one of four cabinet members who abstained from voting.
Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, denied that the decision encouraged or expanded West Bank settlement, noting that it required an additional vote before any actual benefits were granted to those communities. "The decision today changes nothing on the West Bank," Mr. Regev said. As for the timing, Mr. Regev said, it "was determined by the legislative process and the legal process" and had nothing to do with the peace process.
After an aggressive push by Secretary of State John Kerry that included six rounds of shuttle diplomacy in the region, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met last week in Washington, starting a nine-month process whose goal, Mr. Kerry said, is a final agreement in the long-running conflict. Negotiators plan to meet next week in Jerusalem or Jericho to plan for tackling the contentious issues of borders, security, refugees, water and the future of Jerusalem, which both Palestinians and Israelis see as their capital.
Mr. Netanyahu presides over a coalition government that includes many right-wing settlement supporters, and he refused to formally freeze settlement construction -- as he did in 2010 -- as a condition for restarting talks.
The dispute over the priority map is the latest in a series of hiccups in recent months involving settlements. Mr. Netanyahu has not allowed any new housing tenders to be issued in the West Bank, but on several occasions, already-approved projects advancing in the development process have raised questions among Palestinians, Americans, and left-leaning Israelis over his seriousness about negotiations.
"The National Priority List provides a clear example of the Israeli government choosing to incentivize and encourage Israeli citizens to immigrate into the settlements, especially into deep, isolated settlements that will not be included in any sort of peace agreement," the anti-settlement group Peace Now said in a statement. "This is not only illegal under international law, but it brings into question whether this government is truly ready to negotiate in good faith."
Gabby Sobelman contributed research.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.