The reform passed 61 to 45, above the protest of environmentalists, Jewish nationalists and Arab parties. The law will transform the ILA, which historically controlled 93 percent of Israel’s land, into the Lands Authority. This body will sell state land, beginning with 100,000 acres and expanding to double that by 2014.
According to the JTA:
Gil Yaacov, director of the Green Course student environmental group, part of a 13-organization anti-privatization coalition, says the government’s plan relinquishes control under the cover of efficiency.
“Out of the total 800,000 dunams, 550,000 are open spaces — places that are not built yet,” Yaacov said, citing coastal areas, among others. “Once you privatize those open spaces, the government loses control over the conflict between private investment and the public interest.”
However, these organizations did not make a strong enough case for keeping the ILA, which many Israelis see as a dinosaur. Haaretz reports that Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias (above) billed the reform as a chance to lower housing prices by reducing irritating bureaucracy:
“Bureaucracy costs money and increases the price of apartments. It adds 20% to the price of an apartment, because time is money. A young couple buying an apartment starts off with bank financing, so you start paying off the mortgage in monthly payments when the foundations have not even been poured. It’s the same story with the entrepreneur. The long process of building and selling apartments is about to get shorter, and that will make apartments cheaper.”
For now, the Arab rights group Adalah has sworn to challenge the reform in court on the grounds that it will sell confiscated Arab property. Hardline Jewish nationalist ministers have formed a committee to safeguard land against sales to foreign Arab buyers. And the greens have reported they will aim to strengthen Israeli planning, to prevent unchecked strip mall development of Israel’s meager open space. The reform goes into effect January 2010.
:: Photo from Haaretz.