Law c'tee mulls bill to limit foreigners purchasing land

Bill initiated, sponsored by broad spectrum of political parties including Nahman Shai (Kadima), Shelly Yacimovich (Labor.)

311_J'lem Building project (photo credit: Paul Widen)
311_J'lem Building project
(photo credit: Paul Widen)
The Knesset Law Committee on Tuesday began to prepare for first reading a private member’s bill aimed at establishing a monitoring procedure before land that is being offered up for sale may be purchased by non-Israelis.
The bill was initiated and sponsored by a broad spectrum of political parties including Nahman Shai (Kadima), Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) and Yariv Levine (Likud).
During Tuesday’s meeting, Shai explained that the need for the bill arose after the Knesset approved a comprehensive reform of Israel’s land ownership policy, allowing private individuals for the first time to purchase outright, rather than lease, land currently owned by the state.
“We had to find a way to prevent land from falling into the hands of hostile hands or into the hands of those who do not have Israel’s best interests at heart,” said Shai.
He made clear however, that the bill was not meant to prevent all non-Israelis from purchasing land. Instead, it calls for the establishment of a mechanism for examining land purchases by foreigners and makes the sale conditional on the approval of cabinet ministers.
According to the proposed wording, “Rights to property will not be transferred to a foreigner, including through inheritance or by a gift, unless the transaction has been approved by the minister of housing and construction, who will give permission in writing after consulting with the minister of defense and the foreign minister.”
There was a control mechanism until now, even though the Israel Lands Authority did not sell state-owned land but only leased it. The ILA examined transactions involving the lease of land to foreigners according to the authority’s internal regulations and had to approve them before they could be carried out. However, following the reform, the ILA will cease to exist and therefore the legislators concluded that a new control mechanism was necessary and that this time it should be given the status of a law.
Adi Arbel, a representative of the Zionist Strategy Institute, told the committee that the law must also provide protection against the possibility that hostile Arab countries, like Saudi Arabia will use Israeli Arabs as front men to purchase land for their own purposes.
When the bill was passed in the ministerial committee for legislation, the government said it would support it if it excluded the seven percent of land in Israel which was already privately owned before the land reform went into effect. A government representative told the committee that there should not be limitations on the rights of private property owners to do what they wish with their land, including selling it to whoever they please.
The tendency in the committee was clearly to apply the law to all of the land, whether privately owned or, until now, state-owned land. This matter will be worked out in further deliberations.