311_J'lem Building project.
(photo credit: Paul Widen)
The Knesset Law Committee on Tuesday began to prepare for first reading a private member’s bill aimed at establishing a monitoring procedure before land may be bought by non-Israelis.
The bill was initiated by lawmakers from a broad spectrum of parties including Nahman Shai (Kadima), Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) and Yariv Levin (Likud).
During Tuesday’s meeting, Shai said that the need for the bill arose after the Knesset approved a comprehensive reform of the nation’s land ownership policy, allowing private individuals for the first time to purchase outright, rather than lease, land currently owned by the state.
“We had to find a way to prevent land from falling into hostile hands or into the hands of those who do not have Israel’s best interests at heart,” Shai said.
He made clear, however, that the bill was not meant to prevent all non-Israelis from buying land. Instead, it calls for the establishment of a mechanism for examining land purchases by foreigners and makes the sales conditional on the approval of cabinet ministers.
According to the draft wording, “Rights to property will not be transferred to a foreigner, including through inheritance or by a gift, unless the transaction has been approved by the minister of construction and housing, who will give permission in writing after consulting with the minister of defense and the foreign minister.”
There has been a control mechanism until now, even though the Israel Lands Authority did not sell state-owned land but only leased it. The ILA examined transactions involving the lease of land to foreigners according to the authority’s internal regulations and had to approve them before they could be carried out. However, following the reform approved on August 3, the ILA will cease to exist and therefore the legislators concluded that a new control mechanism was necessary and that this time it should be given the status of a law.
Adi Arbel, a representative of the Zionist Strategy Institute, told the
committee that the law must also provide protection against the
possibility that hostile Arab countries, like Saudi Arabia, will use
Israeli Arabs as front men to buy land.
When a version of the bill was approved in the ministerial committee for
legislation, the government said it would support it if it excluded the
7 percent of land in Israel which was already privately owned before
the land reform went into effect. A government representative told the
committee that there should not be limitations on the rights of private
property owners to do what they wish with their land, including selling
it to whoever they please.
The tendency in the committee was clearly to apply the law to all of the
country’s land, whether privately owned or, until now, state-owned
land. This matter will be worked out in further deliberations.