Analysis / The High Court's Equitable Remedy

The mandate of the High Court of Justice is to provide equitable remedy. Seven of the High Court Justices performed their duty well yesterday when they ruled unanimously in favor of New Dialogue (Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow).

Two worldviews were at odds: that of the kibbutzim and moshavim, which says that they have title over the land they cultivate, and that if the government rezones farmland to residential and commercial designations, they should be entitled to about 30 percent of the value after rezoning. This would guarantee many billions for kibbutzim and moshavim, because near Tel Aviv residential and commercial land is worth tens of times more than farmland.

According to the competing worldview, the kibbutzim and moshavim only received the land to hold for use as farmland only. Thus, once the State rezones the land, the farmers should be compensated according to the value of the land before rezoning - a value far lower than what the kibbutzim and moshavim seek.

Until 1990 it was the latter approach that was practiced. Whenever the government needed land to build more residential areas or to expand a road, it would negotiate with farmers in the area and compensate them for every dunam (roughly 1/4 acre) of farmland. Under this system, farmers received between $1,500 to $3,000 a dunam.

In the early `90s, when Ariel Sharon took the portfolio in charge of the Israel Lands Administration, he changed the rules of the game. It was then decided that farmers would receive 50 percent of the value of the rezoned land as compensation.

This decision made kibbutzim, moshavim and individual farmers in the Tel Aviv area millionaires over night, and is one of the main reasons for Sharon's popularity in the agricultural sector. In fact Sharon should have been barred from even dealing with the issue, because of a clear conflict of interests: his family has land in Kfar Malal.

The 50 percent figure was so outrageous that public uproar followed, and in the next government, Avraham Shochat cut the rate to 27 percent. Compensation for land near Tel Aviv was slashed to 20 percent. The Milgrom Committee recommended a 10 percent figure, but the farmers rejected this proposal.

Kibbutzim, moshavim and individual farmers near Tel Aviv do not deserve 20 percent of the value of rezoned land, simply because the land is not theirs. It belongs to the people of Israel, and they only have the lease. The 20 percent ratio would have made a small group of farmers extremely rich, while the rest of the nation - to whom this land belongs - would be paying the price.

This would be analogous to a situation in which the government decides to sell Leumi bank, but then the employees maintain that because they have been working at the bank for years, the proceeds are theirs. This is patently untrue - the bank belongs to all Israelis.

The same applies to land. The proceeds belong to the people; the kibbutzim and moshavim deserve special compensation for cultivating the land for so many years, but the figure should be balanced and just and take into account all the competing interests of the various sectors.

The billions that will flow into the treasury's coffers once the ILA's policy is changed must not be used to expand the budget, because this is not a new steady source of income - one day land will run out. The treasury may, however, use the money to cover the deficit. This will make a tax cut possible and trim long-term interest, which in turn would encourage investments and create jobs.

The money should be invested in infrastructure and schooling. It should be used to build trains to connect Tel Aviv with remote areas, as well as a subway in Tel Aviv itself. It could be used to finance a long school day in remote towns and improve education in development towns and projects. The new billions can be used to retrain job-seekers and enable them to get back into the labor market. The money can be put to good use. All that needs to be done is usher it in.