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42 MKs: Settlement building would solve housing crisis
By LAHAV HARKOV
08/02/2011
Three-day marathon discussion of National Housing Committees Bill continues; Land of Israel Caucus lobbies Netanyahu on settlements.
 
The Knesset Land of Israel Caucus called for the government to adopt construction in the West Bank as a solution to the housing crisis on Tuesday, the second day of a three-day marathon Knesset discussion on the National Housing Committees Bill.

Caucus and coalition Chairman Zeev Elkin (Likud) explained at a caucus meeting that 42 ministers, deputy ministers and MKs from the opposition and coalition signed a letter imploring Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to favor settlement construction.

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“We hope to get more signatures and pass 61,” he said. “I am sure our call will be a major part of the discussion on housing, and Judea and Samaria will be a solution to the problem, as it was during the previous housing crisis, in the early 90s.”

Sixteen MKs from Likud, Israel Beiteinu, Shas, UTJ, Kadima and National Union attended the meeting, as did Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, Minister Michael Eitan and Science and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz. Communications and Welfare Minister Moshe Kahlon, Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein and Minister-without-Portfolio Yossi Peled signed the letter.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin told the caucus that, because of his position, he cannot sign the letter, but expressed support for the initiative.

“Zionism from its outset was a settlement movement,” Rivlin explained. “If we stop going on this path, how can we justify the faith that all of Zion belongs to us?” “We must eradicate the anti- Semitic claim that settlements are the reason for the housing crisis from our lexicon,” MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) said, calling for Israel to apply Israeli law to the West Bank.

“We are at the end of a year of major events: a total construction freeze, then partial construction, and no major government projects in Judea and Samaria,” MK Arye Eldad (National Union) explained.

“Towns in Judea and Samaria can – and must – be part of the solution to the housing crisis throughout the country.”

Eldad demanded that Netanyahu add an article to the National Housing Committees Bill that would allow for accelerated construction in the West Bank, as well.

“Tens of thousands of Israelis can live in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem,” he added.

MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima), a former chairman of the Yesha Council, lamented “the great amount of hatred surrounding this issue.”

“Settlement strengthens all three components of Israel’s declaration of independence – Zionism, Judaism and democracy,” he said.

However, the Kadima MK stopped short of specifically addressing the housing bill, which his party opposes.

Schneller and MK Yulia Shamalov-Berkovich were punished by Kadima last month for not voting against the coalition’s anti-boycott bill.

Yesha Council Chairman Danny Dayan said that in the West Bank, which faced its own housing crisis because of the construction freeze, “people do not need to pitch tents, because the community looks out for them. If more people were taken out of Judea and Samaria, prices would skyrocket all over Israel,” he warned.

Meanwhile, in the plenum, opposition MKs presented their reservations about the National Housing Committee Bill, starting at 11:00 a.m. – five hours earlier than usual – and continuing into the evening.

Labor MKs accused the bill of being anti-Zionist.

“You took Herzl’s Altneuland and turned it into Orwell’s Animal Farm,” MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) said. “You forgot what it means to be Israeli. In this country, you work hard and serve the state, and the state provides you with basic needs.”

MK Shelly Yacimovich said she “heard the prime minister talking about a monopoly on the land.”

“Which monopoly is he talking about? The state?,” she asked. “Next we’ll hear the state has a monopoly on the army, or the justice system,” she added. “The state holds land as part of the Zionist vision.”

Many other opposition MKs complained that the bill does not include construction in Arab towns and neighborhoods.

“How can the prime minister draft a law forgetting 20 percent of Israel’s citizens?,” MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima) asked.

MK Hanna Sweid (Hadash) pointed out that Arab towns tend to be small, and therefore, the requirement for developers to build at least 200 units makes the bill irrelevant to them. He asked the government to reduce the amount to 100, which would be “a major improvement.”

Sweid also said that “many ministers and MKs think that the greatest goal is the Land of Israel, so they draft anti-democratic laws leading to socioeconomic anarchy.”

The National Housing Committees bill is one of the central components of Netanyahu’s housing-reform plan. The bill is meant to circumvent usual construction- planning bureaucracy in order to build new homes.

The bill would allow for the temporary formation of national-housing committees, which would work to accelerate the process of approving building projects in the next year and a half.

There will be one committee in every region in Israel, which will be responsible for providing all of the authorizations necessary to begin construction only for projects with over 200 homes, built mostly on state land and include “accessible housing.”

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