Having sold off many government companies in his last term as prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu now turns to Israel’s public land as the next potential victim of his privatization obsession. He tried to sneak it through in a seemingly irrelevant budget-related legislation (חוק הסדרים) and when pressed on the matter, he claimed its all about making it easier to enclose balconies in apartments. Right. Well, a fascinating broad-based coalition quickly organized in opposition, ranging from the Zionist Right through the Zionist center/left and to the Socialist left and its managed to squeeze a few concessions out of the prime minister, and may yet be able to stop the deal. Green Movement leaders have been central in organizing opposition to the privatization effort. Green Movement deputy chair explains more fully why we should oppose this effort in his op-ed in Ha’aretz today. He writes:
The real loss, however, involves the extent of the sell-off. The bill states that 800,000 dunams, or 4 percent of Israel’s lands, are to be put on the block. Supporters glibly claim that 4 percent is trivial. It’s anything but. When the deserts of the south are taken out of the equation, along with the nature reserves, forests and of course the military training grounds, this means an extraordinary percentage of the lands in central Israel will be up for sale.
The difference between private and public land ownership can easily be demonstrated by comparing the results of two major past development controversies. In Haifa, developers linked up with private landowners to push through approval of the seven seaside Carmel Towers. Because of litigation, only two of these monstrosities now block the view and the breeze of the adjacent neighborhoods, so that a few wealthy landowners can enjoy their private beach-front perches. But it is just a question of time before a political constellation revives the original plan and a new wall of concrete neutralizes more than a kilometer of beach.
The results were different in Nes Tziona, where a vast apartment complex was proposed for the Iris Hills, one of the last calcareous sandstone (kurkar) hillsides in Israel’s center, and home to a remarkable diversity of disappearing flora. Last year the Supreme Court rejected an attempt by private landowners to break a stalemate with the Jewish National Fund, which owned much of the land, and force through their building program.