Paying the price of the moratorium

The gov't should prioritize the establishment of a mechanism that will promptly and sensibly compensate the settlers for their losses.

When the Netanyahu government announced a 10-month freeze on new home-building for Jews in the West Bank back in November, it knew there would be a price to pay, both in terms of political capital and in dollars and cents. While we will have to wait until the next election to see what the freeze will cost Netanyahu and the Likud in mandates, the financial cost is supposed to be determined right now by his ministers.
On Sunday, the Ministerial Committee on Legislation was scheduled to meet to discuss a bill that will fix the levels of compensation to be given to individuals and companies harmed by the construction freeze. According to the bill, put forward by Likud MK Danny Danon and co-sponsored by 15 other lawmakers, developers and individuals stand to receive between NIS 40 and NIS 100 per square meter of construction, based on authorized plans, for every month of the freeze.
To the chagrin of those affected, who are understandably anxious to know their fate, however, the meeting was canceled at the last minute and rescheduled for two weeks time – which may indicate the level of urgency the issue is getting from the country’s decision makers.
The bill authorizes a streamlined process of filing claims to the state through a specially formed committee made up of representatives of the judiciary, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Interior and a representative of the settlers.
Those choosing to use the path of the committee will need to file their claims in writing, either by mail or via a specially created Web site. Claimants will have up to five years to file. The committee must answer a claim within 120 days of receiving it and payment is to be made within 60 days of a decision. Appeals will be heard by the district court.
Most of the compensation payments will go to contractors whose West Bank developments are currently in limbo. Those hardest hit are projects that were at a relatively advanced stage of development or in initial sages of construction when the construction freeze went into effect. The government decided that only buildings with concrete foundations in place would be authorized to complete construction – a decision that caught out a significant number of developers. They had already paid for planning, permits and initial groundwork, but were forbidden to see through their projects. Some had even sold units on paper and are now finding themselves unable to honor agreements with buyers.
The bill offers two tracks of compensation, one for those who had purchased land but had yet to begin development or construction work, and the second, providing increased compensation, to those who had begun that work. Some compensation will also be given to buyers whose homes are complete, but who are unable to inhabit them because the infrastructure work in their neighborhood was frozen.
It is estimated that overall compensation costs will range between NIS 50 million and NIS 100m. This will also include payments to local authorities in the West Bank for loss of revenue from municipal taxes.
WHILE IT is encouraging to see that the government is gradually moving toward taking action on the issue, it is worrying that only now, nearly four months into the freeze, is the mechanism for compensation being debated – and Sunday’s postponement only amplified the concerns.
The government, which showed rare efficiency in enforcing the freeze, should have had the foresight to set up a compensation mechanism in advance. It is unfair to the people affected, whose lives and livelihoods have suffered as a result of the decision, that their compensation be an afterthought.
The tardiness in decision making is especially worrying in light of thestate’s history of compensation in other instances, most notably in thecase of the Gush Katif evacuees, many of whom are still waiting for thegovernment to honor obligations from five years ago.
The government should prioritize the establishment of a mechanism thatwill promptly and sensibly compensate the settlers for their losses. Itis the fair thing to do.