Israel Prepares to Swear in New Coalition

West Bank Settlement Leaders Seizing Control of Israel's Housing Policy

With ministerial appointments complete, it has become clear that the drive to fix the real estate market will be led by those who once at the forefront of the settlement movement.

The problems in the real estate market are expected to be at the top of the new government’s agenda − and with the completion of a round of ministerial appointments it’s clear the drive will be led by people once at the forefront of the settlement movement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new economics and trade minister, Naftali Bennett, is a former chief of the Yesha Council of settlers, and the electoral base of his Habayit Hayehudi party is in the West Bank settlements. New Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel is also from Habayit Hayehudi and has spent his public career advancing the settlements.

The new finance minister, Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid, is chairman of the new Ministerial Committee on Housing Issues, though he’s in the center of the political spectrum.

In any case, the new political-economic axis is likely to expand beyond the cabinet. Sunday, it was revealed that the key figure in the Knesset for economic matters, the chairman of the Finance Committee, will be MK Nissan Slomiansky ‏(Habayit Hayehudi‏). He has served as a secretary general of the Gush Emunim settler movement and as a member of the Yesha Council.

Another appointment in the new government is MK Danny Danon ‏(Likud‏) as deputy defense minister responsible for settlement in the West Bank. “The new government will be a national government that will preserve the country’s interests, including the settlements of Judea and Samaria,” Danon said in an interview before his appointment.

In addition, the new interior minister, Likud’s Gideon Sa’ar, is likely to support the political line of the former Yesha officials. Further support is likely to come from Moshe Kahlon, the former Likud communications minister who before the election was appointed chairman of the Israel Lands Administration.

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The coalition agreements leave open appointments for other people close to the settler power center in areas related to housing.

Under these agreements, Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu will work with Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi to form coalitions at institutions such as the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund − agencies that have economic weight and influence on the real estate sector through land ownership. They’re also conduits for donations from Diaspora Jewry worth hundreds of millions of shekels annually.

ILA Chairman Bentzi Lieberman is a former chairman of the Yesha Council and Tnufa, an agency formed to help evacuees following the 2005 Gaza disengagement. His appointment in 2011 began the era of putting settlement leaders in charge of housing policy.

The list of ILA top brass appointed by Lieberman over the past year includes deputy director Leora Tushinsky, previously a Tnufa vice president. Tushinsky also served as CEO of the Samaria Regional Council when Lieberman was its chairman.

Attorney Adiel Shamroun, previously head of Tnufa’s budget and coordination department, was appointed the ILA’s central district manager. At the spokesman’s office, relies on Yehoshua Mor-Yosef, a former Yesha Council spokesman. Doron Ben-Shlomi, a former chairman of the Gush Katif settlers’ committee, was tapped as assistant to the chairman.

Lieberman has support from the Interior Ministry from Pinchas Wallerstein, a veteran settler leader who chairs the committee for investigating the boundaries of regional authorities.

A controversy was sparked over the past year when Yossi Segal was brought in to the ILA. He’s the person responsible under the Civil Administration for state and abandoned property in the West Bank, a post he held for over a decade, although under the auspices of the Israel Defense Forces and the defense establishment.

“There isn’t supposed to be any connection between the ILA and the Civil Administration, which is subordinate to the government’s coordinator of activities in the territories,” says a Justice Ministry source.

“And it isn’t meant to be part of the ILA’s organizational structure or management, as currently understood from the ILA website. Even if it’s only a symbolic connection, the implications could be far-reaching."

Michal Fattal