It has happened again. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is deferring important decisions, this time over conflicting promises to two coalition parties. At the last moment yesterday, he was forced to pull from the Knesset a key bill on residential construction because he failed to win a majority in support of the program.
The case involves reforms for approving simple construction plans, which have been called the balcony reforms because they would make it easier to gain approval for enclosing apartment balconies. The reforms also include criteria to determine who receives subsidized housing. Netanyahu had promised Yisrael Beiteinu that he would add a measure to favor people who fully exercise their working potential, but his right-hand man, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, promised Shas the exact opposite.
Under similar circumstances in the past, secular politicians simply gave in, but this time Yisrael Beiteinu refused to vote for the construction reform plan if the prime minister didn't fulfill his commitment to the party. Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman said he wants inexpensive apartments to go to members of the secular middle class, who work hard, pay taxes and serve in the army but receive almost nothing from the government.
On the other hand, Eli Yishai and Ariel Atias of Shas want inexpensive apartments to go to young ultra-Orthodox couples. The two Shas ministers are unwilling to introduce full exercise of working potential as a criterion for subsidized housing because most young ultra-Orthodox couples are not employed and are not looking for work; this is particularly true for the men. They live on state allocations at the public's expense.
Just last week the Israel Lands Administration, which Atias heads, issued a public tender for 1,400 subsidized housing units to be made available based on length of marriage, worth 70 points, and on whether the applicant does reserve duty, worth only 30 points. There was no reference to full exercise of working potential. So in the meantime, most of the housing will go to the ultra-Orthodox.
Lieberman has taken a strong stance on the matter. "The proper priority should be the middle class, the most deprived minority," he said. "We demand that, when it comes to affordable housing, the criterion of full exercise of working potential be included." The Trajtenberg committee, which made recommendations to help lower the cost of living, also thought this should be the case.
The ball is now back in Netanyahu's court. Let's hope he doesn't keep on giving all the resources to the ultra-Orthodox and instead offers subsidized housing to the middle class, which is straining under the burden of taxes and reserve duty and is looking for a little social justice.
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