housing - Emil Salman - August 3 2011
Protesters demonstrating against the proposed housing bill in Jerusalem yesterday. Photo by Emil Salman
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to bring a bill that would slash red tape for new construction up for a final vote today, even though the leaders of the tent protest have demanded he drop that bill.

The bill would set up national committees to approve new housing projects. Netanyahu has strongly promoted the bill as the solution to the housing crisis.

Netanyahu decided to bring the bill to a vote today, the last day of the Knesset's summer session, despite the protesters' demands.

Netanyahu's bureau said yesterday that the bill had enough support to "pass smoothly."

Meanwhile, hundreds of tent protesters rallied against the bill outside the Knesset yesterday. They are expected to demonstrate again this morning, in an attempt to block the Knesset's entrance.

The tent activists are reportedly planning on ratcheting up their protests, in addition to rallying and blocking traffic in various cities.

The chairman of the National Students Union, Itzik Shmuli, said yesterday that all the groups in the campaign opposed the bill.

"We took the first step and are willing to come to talk, due to our understanding that solutions will come only through the government. As a sign of good faith, we expect the prime minister not to bring the housing committees bill to a vote," Shmuli said.

Shmuli's sentiment was reflected yesterday in the hundreds of objections that opposition MKs presented over the bill, harshly criticizing the prime minister's economic policies.

"The protesters' demand that the housing committees bill be taken off the table is not for nothing," said MK Meir Sheetrit (Kadima ), adding that the bill "offers a quick way to approve construction projects - one single committee deciding, giving the shortest possible time for objections so that it will be impossible to oppose projects.

One single committee will decide to rezone, increase buildings' size and build as much as it wants."

MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor ) said: "The land privatization called the Israel Lands Administration reform ... [is] all part of a plan to privatize the country and distribute it to the wealthy."

Meretz MK Zahava Galon stated, "According to Central Bureau of Statistics data, half of all government construction in the past decade was in the northern West Bank, and no government investment was made in the Tel Aviv area."

The bill, which Netanyahu says will increase the supply of apartments and lower prices, also drew threats from the right wing: National Union told Netanyahu that the faction would not support the bill if he did not apply it to settlements, thus making it significantly easier to build in the territories."

Speaking at Beit Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed in Tel Aviv, Shmueli said yesterday: "They doubt us. They are trying to drive a wedge between us, but we have no choice but to try. We are trying to do something much more significant and broad for all of Israeli society."

Shmueli reiterated that the campaign was neither political nor personal.

"If there is something more important than the very protest itself, it is the achievements that must come at its end," he said.

In response to recent remarks about the background and motives of the protesters, Shmueli said: "Two hundred thousand people in the town squares are not left-wing or right-wing, they are not bizarre, sushi-eaters or nargila-smokers. They are people like me and you, who want to see a better Israel."