Land reform measure delayed again

Opposition to the bill grows in coalition.

For the second time in less than as many weeks, the controversial vote on the Israel Lands Authority reform was pushed backwards hours before the scheduled vote Monday. The delay - which will push the vote to Wednesday - will allow additional hours of debate on the subject after leaders of the opposition to the bill threatened a filibuster on the plenum floor. MKs including Shelly Yacimovich (Labor), Haim Oron (Meretz), and Otniel Schneller (Kadima) had promised to debate the dozens of points of opposition that they and others had filed together with the bill. With a midnight deadline for debate and a full order of business on the Knesset floor that promised that the bill would not go up for debate until the late hours of the evening, Knesset leaders realized Monday that the vote would most likely not be held by the close of Monday's meeting. Instead, MKs will be allowed to debate the reform until midnight during Tuesday's plenum session and will vote on the reform on Wednesday. The ILA reform was the subject of Kadima's no-confidence motion against the government Monday, with Schneller taking the speaker's podium to accuse the government of harming the Jewish, Zionist and democratic nature of the State of Israel by pushing a plan that would allow the permanent sale of state-held lands. But the dramatic moment for the bill on Monday occurred hours earlier, when Schneller was removed from the Economic Affairs Committee's final hearing and vote on the reform after he attempted to pass a blue-and-white JNF charity box around the committee room, asking MKs and visitors to donate in order to buy land for the State of Israel. Schneller has argued throughout that the sale of lands acquired through the fundraising efforts of Jews around the world is a negation of the ideals upon which the state was founded. "This is not a case of the opposition against the Likud," said Schneller during his speech on the house floor. "This is a case of the Likud against Israel's declaration of independence." But MK Carmel Shama (Likud), chairman of the subcommittee that was charged with debating the reform, argued Monday that the reform did nothing of the sort, and simply preserved a situation that was practically the status quo while removing layers of ILA bureaucracy that discouraged real estate investors from building in Israel, and ended up raising housing costs. It has always been Israel's policy not to sell land outright to homeowners. Instead, buyers have been given permission to lease the land for a period of 49 years, with an option to extend the lease almost automatically. The rationale for state ownership of 93% of the total land area has always been that this was a key instrument for achieving territorial and demographic stability, as well as the halachic prohibition against selling off the land of Israel. Shama's compatriots in the ruling party seemed slightly less certain regarding the benefits of the reform. Kadima sources chortled Monday afternoon after leaking that Likud MKs requested during their faction meeting that they be given a paper with talking points in support of the reform. "It's absurd that Likud members need talking points in order to find excuses for how they offer up national land to wealthy financeers," said party spokesman Shmulik Dahan. "But even talking points cannot cover up the waste of lands and the waste of the State of Israel's future for the good of a policy of wild and irresponsible privatization." Although throughout the process, members of the coalition had discreetly conveyed their discomfort with aspects of the reform, more and more coalition members began openly voiced their disapproval and emphasized their inability to support the bill on the Knesset floor. The three members of the Habayit Hayehudi faction said they would oppose the reform due to its halachic implications. MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) said she would be absent from the house floor during the vote rather than vote against the reform sponsored by her own party. The ILA reform was originally meant to be passed together with the rest of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's economic reform package as part of the Economic Arrangements Bill, but opposition MKs managed to separate the reform from the bill, which passed the Knesset last week along coalition lines.