Monday, July 27, 2009
Knesset Votes on Land Ownership in the Land of Israel
Hillel Fendel Knesset Votes on Land Sales
Two important and controversial laws are coming up for a Knesset vote this afternoon (Monday), on the matters of land sales and party splits. A court order is holding up the land-sale issue, no matter what the result of the Knesset vote, while opposition MKs say the "party splitting" bill supported by Netanyahu may very well boomerang against him.The land sale law is actually a reform of the entire issue of land ownership in the Land of Israel. It includes the replacement of the Israel Lands Authority with a body that is expected to be less bureaucratic, as well as the sale of 800 square kilometers (roughly 310 square miles) of land to private hands.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who favors privatization in general, has long wanted to sell plots of land in Israel. He thus seeks both to remove bureaucratic obstacles for those who live on the plots – who currently lease the land for 49 or 99 years – and to raise cash for the State of Israel.
Opposition to the Bill
Widespread opposition to the bill stems from concern that the sale of land could violate the Biblical injunction not to sell the land “forever,” but rather only until the Jubilee year, as well as the Biblical ban on giving non-Jews a permanent stake in the Land. Environmentalists and others have also raised concerns that large business interests and/or foreigners will buy up land in Israel. Still others say that such an important law must follow not days of preparations and public debate, but months.
Netanyahu and the Likud suffered an embarrassing near-defeat last week when they asked to call off the Knesset vote on the bill even as it was proceeding, because it was suddenly discovered that they did not have a majority. Netanyahu has now imposed strict party discipline, and the bill is expected to pass this time.
Even if the bill is passed into law, however, it will not take effect for an undetermined period of time. This because of a Jerusalem District Court order issued by Judge Moshe Sobel on Sunday. Judge Sobel ruled that the agreement between the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and the Israel Lands Authority (ILA), by which the JNF would transfer lands to the ILA, must be suspended.
Sobel issued the ruling at the request of a Kadima party representative on the JNF board, who said that the board vote approving the deal was invalid. Kadima legal counsel Eitan Haberman explained, “This ruling means that even if the Knesset passes the land reform, it will not be able to take effect until a final ruling on the JNF case is issued.”
Voting on the "Break Up Kadima" Bill
A second important bill to be voted on in the Knesset as it winds up its current session – the recess begins this Wednesday afternoon – is a proposal known informally as the Mofaz bill. It is named after MK Sha’ul Mofaz of Kadima, who informally heads an internal opposition to Kadima party leader Tzipi Livni. Mofaz is said to want to split off, with several of his party colleagues, from Kadima and join the Likud. However, according to current law, a new faction can form only if it is made up of at least a third of the faction from which it wishes to separate. In the case of Kadima, which has 28 MKs, Mofaz would need nine other MKs. The bill to be voted on would make his life much easier, in that it would allow seven MKs to split off from any party and form their own, no matter how large the parent party is.
Kadima, of course, has attacked the Likud for advancing this bill, claiming the Likud is trying to intervene in its internal affairs and sabotage them.
Ketzaleh: It Will Backfire on Netanyahu
MK Yaakov Katz (Ketzaleh), of the National Union party, predicts that the bill will boomerang against Netanyahu: “You will see that soon, seven MKs of the Likud will rebel against Netanyahu’s anti-Land of Israel policies and will join the National Union. He wishes to harm Kadima, but in the end, it will harm him.”