(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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.