A hostile takeover

The logic of new ethos is the precise reverse – to draw more Israelis away from the periphery and into the hub.

June 8, 2013 23:31
3 minute read.
Moshav Taoz in the Judean Hills

moshav taoz370. (photo credit: Seth J. Frantzman)

Imperceptibly, a groundbreaking redirection of Israel’s long-term objective to disperse the population has been engineered under the guise of limited bureaucratic amendments to TAMA 35 – the Integrated National Master Plan for Construction, Development and Preservation.

What has been disguised as yet more routine rehashing of esoteric planning clauses in fact spells a major overhaul and a ditching of decades of efforts to thin out population density in the jam-packed central regions.

The logic of new ethos is the precise reverse – to draw more Israelis away from the periphery and into the hub.

This projected revamp, camouflaged as technical deliberations, was exposed by the Moshav Movement, which revealed that the latest proposal is to extend the jurisdictions of various cities so they in effect swallow up adjacent small cooperative agriculture villages (moshavim). These viable farming communities would now officially be under the control of such municipalities as Kfar Saba, Ra’anana, Rehovot, Netanya and others.

This is no mere formality. Municipal housing construction, for example, can now be exported to annexed villages in accordance with entirely different scales than whatever private construction had been approved there thus far.

Instead of low-slung one-family homes, moshavim would be filled with rows of high-rises and would become part of the urban sprawl, indistinguishable from the cities next door. All zoning and other decisions would be removed from the cooperatives and transferred exclusively to the municipalities, whose interests would inevitably negate those of the villages.

Seen from the city vantage point, this is welcome news – the opening up of new land for housing projects. From the moshav view, though, this is a high-handed, hostile takeover.

Israel, narrow-waisted as it is, has always suffered from high demand for housing and low supply of land for construction.

But solving this chronic anomaly by targeting the last veteran agricultural holdings is cynical and counterproductive.

The villages of the Sharon, for instance, are not the cause of Israel’s housing shortage. There is plenty of land on which nothing is built, due mostly to contractors’ machinations and no less to the incredible red tape of the very planning commissions that greedily eye surviving farmland.

Such centrally located towns as Rosh Ha’ayin are cogent cases in point, where available plots are not used.

Moshav holdings are a red herring. Coming under municipal jurisdiction would spell the end to agriculture in places where it continues to thrive even nowadays. It would deprive families of their livelihood and going enterprises of their prospects.

Some produce grown in central Israel cannot be cultivated elsewhere, so losing it would make the country less self-sufficient. This would be akin to cutting off the limb we sit on.

But worst of all is the harm this would do to more outlying regions. Why would a young couple choose to live in Afula, for example, when freed-up farmland would offer them housing in Kfar Saba? The pending amendments to TAMA 35 pull the rug out from under all incentives to move away from the central cities. Affordable housing need not necessarily be made available in high-demand towns such as Ra’anana. Desirable locations cost more everywhere and those who cannot afford them should opt for solutions elsewhere.

Beside the economic bad sense embedded in the TAMA 35 modifications, they also make no sense from a security point of view. Too many Israelis concentrated in a tiny, overcrowded patch renders the population ever more vulnerable.

But assuming the moshavim disappear from central Israel’s landscape and are replaced by tall housing developments, will that be to the benefit of the city dwellers? Gone will be the last remaining green lungs in a sea of asphalt and concrete. The quality of life for urbanites will not be thereby improved. The moshavim are natural parks, not contrived landscaping, and it was they that gave the towns that arose around them their charm and attraction.

The populist ardor to come up with quick, easy cure-alls to the housing shortage is sure to cause more damage than to actually fix anything. It would be better to invest in transportation infrastructure to bring the periphery closer to the Center.

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