Woods near Jerusalem
A wooded area near Jerusalem. Photo by Lior Mizrahi / BauBau
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Two Knesset committees will this week begin discussing a proposal to empower subcommittees of existing planning committees to authorize extensive building plans.

Critics of the proposal, which comes in the shape of an amendment to the Planning and Building Law, say it would allow entrepreneurs and other interests to circumvent or minimize state control over construction.

Under the proposal, to be discussed by the Knesset Interior Committee and the Knesset Finance Committee, the state would set up special subcommittees of the national and district planning committees with full authority to approve building proposals. These subcommittees would have powers currently reserved to the National Planning and Building Committee, and an overwhelming majority of their members would be government officials.

Moreover, despite their definition as subcommittees, the parent committees would not be able to intervene in any matter a subcommittee is discussing.

The Joint Committee for Responsible Planning, an umbrella organization set up by environmental groups determined to thwart the reform, said last week that the plan's goal was to bypass the existing planning committees. The subcommittees will allow for swift approval of building plans under pressure from real estate interests and government ministries, it charged, while limiting the public's ability to monitor planning and its right to appeal.

The new subcommittees would also significantly boost the interior minister's clout: He would be empowered to define a plan as one of "national importance" and personally submit it to a subcommittee. Plans eligible for this privilege would include housing projects larger than 400 units and infrastructure projects such as new roads.

The minister would also set the rules governing when existing planning committees would be allowed to reconsider a subcommittee decision. And only the chairman of the National Planning and Building Committee - who is appointed by the minister - would have the power to authorize such a reconsideration.

Finally, the minister would appoint the head of a new national subcommittee of appeals, and this person would not need to be an attorney, as is customary today.

The Interior Ministry responded that the subcommittees are meant to simplify the planning process and prevent the authorities from doing double work. The subcommittees would balance different interests, it said, though not all organizations and institutions would be represented.

It also promised the amended law would include mechanisms for including the public in the decision-making process, submitting objections to proposed plans and increasing transparency.