Judge leaves 70,000-dunam ILA land swap on hold

Likud MK Shama: Decision will make full implementation of the reform impossible, but has no immediate impact on the vote in the Knesset.

JNF KKL 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
JNF KKL 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
A Jerusalem District Court judge has ruled that the proposed land swap between the state and the JNF, which was supposed to be a central part of the government's Israel Lands Administration reform plan, will remain frozen by court order until legal proceedings completed. A temporary injunction was put in place a month ago, after the Jewish National Fund assembly approved a proposal to exchange 70,000 dunams (7,000 hectares) of land in the center of the country for the same amount of land in the Negev and the Galilee, only to discover the next day that the measure only passed due to a voting error. Tzofia Diamant, a JNF assembly member from the Kadima Party, said she accidentally swung the vote by marking "abstain" instead of "against" on her ballot and on that of 12 other delegates. The vote results were 62 in favor, 55 against and 13 abstentions. Diamant said that all 13 abstentions were on ballots she cast in her own name and in proxy for 12 other absentee voters, and that, if counted appropriately, would turn the decision. Diamant said that a week with little sleep, pressure on her to vote quickly and unfamiliarity with the English-language version of the ballot, caused her to mark the wrong boxes, a mistake she discovered when the votes were counted. She then approached the judge to ask for the injunction freezing the proposal. Last week, deliberations were held before Judge Moshe Sobol. Diamant told her version of the story while JNF representatives attempted to undermine the reasons for the injunction. Sobol has yet to set a date for final judgment. Until he does so, the injunction forbidding the JNF from acting on the agreement is in place. A land exchange agreement would mean that, if the reform were approved by the Knesset, 290,000 housing units would permanently pass into the hands of private citizens. JNF spokeswoman Orit Hadad said Sobol's announcement didn't really change anything since the injunction was already in place. "We are waiting for the judge's final decision before deciding how to proceed. In any case the agreement can't be put into effect until the reform is passed in the Knesset." Kadima spokesman Shmulik Dahan called the decision "another blow for Netanyahu," referring to the prime minister's last minute failure to pass the reform plan in the Knesset last week, after coalition lawmakers failed to show up for the vote and the government had to call it off. "The decision leaves maneuvering room for members of Knesset who understand that things are not yet sealed. Despite the pressure and threats from the Prime Minister's Office, we still expect there to be MKs who stand on their principles. This is especially directed toward Labor MKs, who must decide who will win this battle - [developer Alfred] Akirov or [the late Labor Zionism leader Berl] Katznelson." "The decision will make it impossible for a full implementation of the reform, but has no immediate impact on the vote in the Knesset," said Likud MK Carmel Shama, who chaired the deliberations on the land reform in the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee. "It means that there will remain housing units in the center of the country, which won't be transferred to their leasers, because they are on land owned by the JNF." "As it stands, the reform plan includes the land swap. If you take the agreement out of the reform proposal it can pass, but not in the way the prime minister intended. We're all for a reform with no reform," said Dahan. "Kadima is in favor of removing bureaucracy from the ILA, but against the privatization of the state's lands." Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was dealt a heavy blow when support dissolved for his ILA reform on the plenum floor as the vote was already under way last Wednesday. He later threatened to immediately fire any ministers who voted against the reform plan and expected every member of the government, even those who are abroad, to be back for the vote, which is expected to take place before the end of the week.