Bill limiting land sales to foreigners passes early reading

Nahman Shai's “a Zionist law” motivated by concern that formerly state-held lands, now fully privatized, could “fall into enemy hands.”

By REBECCA ANNA STOIL
June 10, 2010 10:35
2 minute read.
Nachman Shai.

nachman shai 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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The Knesset on Wednesday unanimously passed the preliminary reading of a bill designed to restrict foreign citizens’ ability to purchase land in Israel, a bill described by sponsor MK Nahman Shai (Kadima) as “a Zionist law.”

Coalition and opposition united to support the bill by a vote of 27-0, after the government said that the legislation had its support. The bill was co-sponsored by MKs Yariv Levin (Likud), Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) and Uri Orbach (Habayit Hayehudi) and would ensure that the sale of lands to foreign citizens would be approved only after the sale received the approval of the housing and construction minister in consultation with the foreign and defense ministers.

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The bill’s sponsors explained that the driving force behind the legislation was concern that as formerly state-held lands became fully privatized following the passage of the Israel Lands Administration Reform Law, the lands could “fall into enemy hands.”

Before the passage of the ILA Law in 2009, the majority of lands in Israel were officially leased from state-managed holding organizations. The reform, however, increased the amount of land available for outright purchase.

“There should be a certain scrutiny when it comes to selling land to foreigners,” explained Shai. He emphasized that in conversations with the justice minister, the two had agreed to include an exception for foreign citizens who qualified for citizenship under the Law of Return, even if they had not actually applied for citizenship.


Shai said that this practice of restricting sale of land to foreigners was prevalent in dozens of countries, including in Europe and South America. The Knesset Research Center searched for such laws in 32 other countries, and found that in all of them, similar laws restricting land purchase were on the books.

The government requested that exceptions be made for inheritance and for the 7 percent of Israel’s privately held lands that are held by foreign owners today. The law is now slated to be discussed in the Knesset’s Economic Affairs Committee.



The bill, noted Shai, was not opposed by any Knesset faction, including the Arab parties.

“Land is the essence of the conflict. We came here to have land, and I took the initial idea of selling it very hard. Now, at least, this law provides some kind of a guarantee to ensure that it will not get completely out of hand,” said Shai.

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