Crackdown on Dubious Building Permits May Close Shopping Centers

Newly-appointed Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit said he will cancel nearly all building permits that deviate from the the building and urban planning code.

The move could close several commercial centers across the country that currently operate on agricultural land under special permit.

"I am seeking to drastically reduce exceptions to the law. Exceptions will require the individual approval of the interior minister," Sheetrit told the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee yesterday.

"The Central District alone has 84 illegally-constructed commercial wedding halls that are operating on agricultural lands.

"The owners passed them off as poultry enclosure and got away with it," he said.

"The approving committee gave permission for alleged chicken coops with ceilings five meters tall. It's unbelievable. Plus, the commercial centers at Shfaim, Ga'ash, Bilu and Yarkonim are all on agricultural lands."

Legal action

Sources at Sheetrit's office told Haaretz that the new policy regarding permits will include legal action against violators.

"We will not allow the continuation of attempts to legalize improper use of agricultural lands," they said.

Another reform on Sheetrit's to-do list concerns the number of council members in local municipalities.

"When I was mayor of Yavne, we had four parties in the council, that was it," Sheetrit said, adding that a mayor cannot operate with 10 to 15 individual parties.

He argued that this distribution hurts performance, which results in unstable city councils that ultimately waste taxpayers' money.

The committee's chairman, MK Ophir Pines-Paz, said he would be willing to support Sheetrit's initiative if council members who step down receive proper compensation for doing so.

Identification papers represent another challenge for Sheetrit, who took office about a month ago.

"Israeli Identity cards are scandalously easy to forge. The identification documents in the Palestinian Authority and in some African states are harder to forge than Israeli IDs," he said.

"There are currently 350,000 people walking around with fake IDs, according to the police.

"That is a shocking figure. I will act to change the format of IDs and passports, and replace them with IDs that have biometric means of identification."