Ofer Cassif's crocodile tears are also green – opinion

The sad truth is that Cassif’s objections have very little to do with ecology and environmental protection, and everything to do with a scorched-earth policy of anti-normalization in the West Bank.

Ofer Cassif (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ofer Cassif
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A recent Knesset hearing on the proposed Sha’ar Shomron Commercial Center was an invaluable lesson in Israeli politics and its ills.
MK Ofer Cassif of the Joint List, who initiated the hearing, described the project as a danger to “a unique ecological system in the West Bank.” To the untrained eye, the concerns raised by Cassif seem perfectly legitimate and entirely nonpartisan, but a closer look reveals unbridled cynicism, hypocrisy and political posturing.
The first thing that made this particular Knesset hearing unusual is the forum in which it was conducted: Cassif raised his ecological objections in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, rather than in the Knesset’s environmental, construction or economic committees. Why, we might well ask, did Cassif choose such a strange forum for this seemingly “green” debate?
And why, we might also ask, has this project progressed to the final stages of planning if it poses such a dire threat to the environment? The blueprint for the Sha’ar Shomron Commercial Center has been analyzed and inspected from every possible angle over the course of years. It has been approved by the Regional Planning and Construction Committee, and breezed through the public objections phase. What does Cassif know now that he and his colleagues in the Joint List didn’t know two or three years ago? What does he know that everyone else doesn’t?
The sad truth is that Cassif’s objections to the plan have very little to do with ecology and environmental protection, and everything to do with a scorched-earth policy of anti-normalization in Judea and Samaria. Cassif and the Joint List have a very clear agenda – and the economic development and financial well-being of the flesh-and-blood residents of Judea and Samaria (“the West Bank,” in their lingo) – Arabs and Jews alike – be damned. No employment opportunities will be allowed. No modernization will be permitted. No coexistence will be condoned. “Normal” beyond the dreaded (but imaginary) “Green Line” must always be equated with “backward”; otherwise, how will the Joint List continue to rail against the evils caused by Israeli “occupation?” No commercial centers, planned by Israeli authorities to balance development and economic needs with sustainable use of resources and minimal environmental impact, will be permitted.
What makes Cassif’s concern for the “delicate ecosystem” even more absurd is the fact that less than one mile away from the proposed site of the of the new employment hub – in the very same “delicate ecosystem” – lies the largest commercial zone in Israel – the illegal Kfar Kassem commercial center that is gobbling up green spaces and operating without licenses, without proper waste removal, sewage, water or other infrastructure oversight, without taxation or insurance payments. In short, the free-for-all at nearby Kfar Kassem doesn’t bother Cassif or his fellow Joint List MKs in the least, but a properly planned commercial center, built to code and overseen by engineering, environmental and economic experts, has awoken their eco-conscience. Strange, indeed.
We might say that the Joint List has a very selective appreciation for rules and regulations. In fact, one of the central planks of the party’s platform is the repeal of Amendment 116 to the Planning and Building Code, otherwise known as the Kaminitz Law. This long-awaited and highly effective set of enforcement  powers cut illegal construction by some 50% in its first year alone, creating a way forward for development projects to alleviate the Arab sector’s housing crisis, much-needed infrastructure projects and preservation of Israel’s land reserves for future generations – but the Joint List has been fighting it tooth and nail. In the battle against the Kaminitz Law, as in the battle against the Sha’ar Shomron Commercial Center, the Joint List has brought strange and cynical arguments, shedding crocodile tears for the environment in one instance and bemoaning “racist Israeli policies” in the other. To be clear: The Kaminitz Law applies to everyone, everywhere in Israel. It gives local authorities the power
to issue fines that make illegal construction a far less lucrative undertaking. The only people who have anything to fear from the Kaminitz Law are those who break the law, and those with the most to fear are those who are guilty of construction crimes on the largest scale.
The Sha’ar Shomron Commercial Center should be built under the watchful eye of Israel’s planning and construction authorities and environmental regulators. It will provide jobs for both Jews and Arabs, and will be an important step toward normalization. The Kaminitz Law must be preserved and enforced; adjustments can be made, but the core of this legislation is the best way to insure that Israel’s most precious and most endangered resource – the land itself – is protected from the scourge of illegal construction.
Several months ago, when Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi attempted to hijack the Israeli government and hold the Justice Ministry’s budget hostage in order to force the repeal of the Kaminitz Law, many MKs and members of the Knesset Finance Committee were unable to see through the false claims and the cynical rhetoric. Fortunately, far fewer were taken in by Cassif’s transparent attempt to  derail the wheels of progress and development in Sha’ar Shomron.
Let’s hope that our elected officials have learned to recognize – and to rebuff – the Joint List’s recurring abuse of Israel’s democratic institutions for their own warped purposes.
The writer is director of the International Division of Regavim, a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of Israel’s resources.