Volunteer groups protest timing of crucial lands council meeting

The Lands Forum, a coalition of voluntary organizations, on Tuesday protested the intention of the Israel Lands Council (ILC) to convene the following day to discuss crucial land policy decisions on allegedly short notice and in the midst of the election campaign. The forum, which includes the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Society for Just Distribution, Adam Teva V'Din, Bimkom: Planners for Human Rights and Keshet, also protested the fact that the head of the ILC, Ehud Olmert, is involved in a conflict of interests since he is also the finance minister. In a letter to Olmert and Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, attorneys Sharon Avraham-Weiss and Chen Tirosh wrote that the ILC planned to discuss "many fundamental issues of far-reaching consequences including the planned reform in the Israel Lands Authority (Gadish Committee recommendations), the right to build and establish businesses on home sites (Haber Committee recommendations) and the compensation rate for farmers whose agricultural land is changed to other uses (Resolution 969)." The attorneys wrote that according to the law, the finance minister must approve all decisions made by the ILC in order to ensure that the council does not overspend. In this case, however, the system of checks and balances does not work because Olmert holds both jobs. They also warned that the ILC may make irresponsible decisions because it is election time and its members might want to curry favor with the agricultural sector for political reasons. Avraham-Weiss and Tirosh pointed out that Mazuz had already indicated that these decisions would best be made after the election. The lawyers also protested that the public had not been given enough time to consider and express its opinion on the policies under discussion - the meeting's agenda was published on Sunday, only three days before it was due to take place, they charged. They added that some of the recommendations, such as those of the Haber Committee, were based on insufficient or incorrect facts which would mislead the ILC in making its decisions. The Gadish Committee was established to reform and reorganize the Israel Lands Authority, which is responsible for implementing the country's land policy. Among other things, the committee recommended transferring ownership of land from the ILA (which has leased state lands until now) to private homeowners. It also recommended that the ILA take over lands owned by the Jewish National Fund in the cities in return for ILA-owned land in the countryside. The Haber Committee dealt with farmers' rights on the plot of land where their home is located. It determined that this plot of land would be 2.5 dunams per family in the moshavim and two dunams in the kibbutzim. It also recommended that farmers could build income-generating structures such as bed-and-breakfast rooms or storage containers, and more than one home on this plot of land. They may also purchase the land from the ILA for one third of its market value and then sell it at its full market price. Resolution 969 deals with the compensation farmers are to receive when they return agricultural land that they leased from the ILA, when the ILA wants to recover it and use it for non-agricultural purposes.