Special Panel to Oversee Divorce of JNF and Israel’s Land Authority

Starting in July, the Jewish National Fund will manage its own land — more efficiently, it says.

Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The Housing Ministry, Israel Land Authority and Jewish National Fund are setting up a steering committee to end the arrangement under which the ILA manages JNF-owned land.

Under the new arrangement, long in the planning, the JNF will administer 2.5 million dunams (625,000 acres) of land. The current regime dating back to 1961 will be over.

The Jewish National Fund, also known by its Hebrew name, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, was founded in 1901 to buy, forest and develop land in prestate Israel on behalf of the Jewish people.

The transfer of management to the JNF will reduce management costs by two-thirds, the fund’s director general, Meir Spiegler, said Monday.

“The JNF pays the authority 110 million shekels [$27 million] annually for managing its land. After analyzing our needs, we know we can manage it for 30 million shekels to 40 million shekels at most,” he said, adding that the JNF as a nongovernment body was a more flexible manager.

Implementation of the divorce is expected to take between one and two years. The Housing Ministry has favored the move for some time; its director general, Shlomo Ben Eliyahu, was a member of a special committee that recommended the split a few years ago.

“There is no intention to hamper the state’s capacity to pursue its housing programs or to hinder its attempts to provide cheaper housing,” Spiegler said.

“Just like the authority, we’re not able to change the composition of the regional planning and building committees, but the separation will benefit the JNF and the land market, which should become more efficient. The move should create a more competitive market.”

Several terms were agreed by the sides in the meeting on Monday. In cases in which JNF land is in the process of being developed or is part of a specific plan when the agreement is finalized on July 28, the ILA will be allowed to complete the process.

To do this, it will simply have to provide the JNF with alternative land. This land would most likely be in the Negev in the south or in the Galilee in the north.

Spiegler says the land would be managed by several divisions, some within the JNF and others outsourced. JNF people will be on board, but most of the professional work such as planning, marketing and the sealing of contracts will be outsourced.

“We have land in Herzliya that can be used to build 54 apartments, in collaboration with private developers. They tried to obtain a bank loan for the project but were unsuccessful,” Spiegler said.

“We told them we could provide the funding and proceed as partners. In Netanya we hold land for constructing 1,050 units, and we’ve started contacting developers  to get this going.”