Likud Scrambles to Fend Off Scathing Housing Report, Putting Blame on Lapid

Netanyahu expected to blame ex-Finance Minister for failing to rein in prices.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
There's an increasing presence of illicit money in Israel's real estate industry.
There's an increasing presence of illicit money in Israel's real estate industry.Credit: Nimrod Glickman
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The long awaited state comptroller’s report on the government’s failure to stop the rise of housing prices, which has been looming over the election campaign, is due out today. The Likud leadership convened on Tuesday in the Prime Minister’s Residence to prepare its response, which is expected to find Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and senior party figures blaming the price increase – 5 percent just in 2014 – on former Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), whom Netanyahu appointed as head of the housing cabinet.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz is likely to head the Likud information campaign on the subject in light of his experience in economic issues and his membership in the housing cabinet. The focus of Tuesday’s meeting, which was attended by most of the party’s ministers and MKs, was a discussion of the draft of the socioeconomic plan being presented by Likud in an attempt to show that Netanyahu has the ability to lower housing prices and fight the plans being proposed by his rivals.

For example, Likud hopes to make the election slogan of the Zionist Union (“a third assistant in the preschools”) irrelevant by promising that Netanyahu will also act to bring an additional assistant into the nursery schools after the election. Netanyahu is also expected to promise to reduce overcrowding in school classrooms to a maximum of 32 students.

Naturally, the main elements of Likud’s economic plan deal with lowering housing costs. Among other things, the party will promise to restore the 100,000-shekel ($25,330) grants for purchasing a new home in outlying areas. The party says it will also act to increase the supply of homes in the coming year alongside the rate of planning and construction. According to the plan, 60,000 new housing units would be built in 2015, and 80,000 new units in 2016.

At the same time, according to the party platform, the transfer of Israel Defense Forces bases from the center of the country to the Negev would continue, with accelerated construction of 100,000 new housing units on the abandoned bases. The target price plan, which is being promoted at present by Minister Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi), will also be adopted in the Likud plan. The controversial zero value-added tax plan, which was championed by Lapid, has been “disappeared” from the Likud plan as though it never served as the basis of the government’s housing policy.

At Katz’s request, Likud will also introduce a long series of transportation projects, including a rail connection from the center to outlying areas, and the construction of a light rail in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area.

During Tuesday’s discussion of a response to the state comptroller’s report, Deputy Minister Ofir Akunis made the point that Likud has held almost no key housing-related positions in recent years. Zionist Union leaders Tzipi Livni and Isaac Herzog were both ministers of housing and construction, as were Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi) and Ariel Attias (Shas), so responsibility for the failure to deal with the increase in housing prices is not the fault of his party, according to Akunis’ argument.

It is not yet clear whether Likud will publicize its economic plan at once, or reveal it in the media in stages. There is a debate in the party over whether the plan will drag Likud into a discussion of issues in which Netanyahu was not successful, thus playing into rival parties’ hands just three weeks before the March 17 election.

Meanwhile, the Zionist Union, which has been ridiculing Likud’s failure to present an economic platform, acquired the website and used it to publish a fictitious platform under the Likud logo.

“These are the points that we will emphasize,” according to the “Likud” plan: “Neglecting the threat of the terror tunnels in the Gaza border communities and in the north; increasing the number of salaries required to purchase a home from 150 to 200; an ‘every third child is poor’ plan.”

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