ILA Rewrites the Map of Priority Zones for Residential Construction

Housing and finance ministries in pre-election jockeying over approval process.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz was said to have signed off Wednesday on a revised map of national priority areas, which provide tax concessions for those building residential property in the designated areas on long-term land leases from the Israel Lands Administration. The map, which was developed by the ILA, becomes official policy after it is returned to the agency. Among the locations accorded benefits are a number of Israeli Arab communities as well as West Bank Jewish settlements.

Those building on ILA land in Area A pay 31% of the actual value of the lease and in Area B, they pay 51%. In the so-called confrontation areas near sensitive borders, the land is provided at no cost whatsoever. The benefits are limited to the first NIS 350,000 of the value of the land, beyond which the homeowner pays the ILA the full amount of the lease fee otherwise owed.

The law allows the government to consider a number of different factors in designating a location a national priority area, including the security situation in the locale, the socioeconomic conditions there and the interest in dispersing the country's population.

The approval of the map has already prompted a seemingly petty electoral spat of sorts. The Housing and Construction Ministry is currently headed by the Shas party's Ariel Atias, and the party is angling to retain the ministry after the January 22 elections and not have it assigned to a minister from Likud, the party of Steinitz. To complicate matters further, Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu are running on a joint slate in the upcoming election. The Housing Ministry claims Steinitz's signature on the new map has not been received by the ILA and that the Finance Ministry has been holding up the process. A source at the Finance Ministry, however, said a thorough professional review of the plan was conducted by his ministry, and the Finance Ministry had been pressing the Housing Ministry and the ILA through the year to expedite approval.

Housing Ministry vs. Steinitz

But Housing Ministry sources say despite the fact that the details of the map were settled two months ago, Steinitz is holding up final approval and in the process, a number of land transactions are being delayed. The Finance Ministry insists that Steinitz's approval has been sent to the ILA.

The concessions on the cost of leasing land are not expected to dramatically affect the cost of housing in the country as a whole, although it does provide a benefit to those building in specific outlying areas of the country. The reconfiguration of the national priority areas now excludes communities that had previously received the designation, including Afula, Metula and Kfar Vradim in the north and Omer and Meitar in the south, in some cases because of their relatively strong economic circumstances.

A large number of the communities on the new map already received priority status in the past. The new map includes a number of urban communities, among them Yeruham, Dimona, Mitzpeh Ramon, Arad and Ofakim in the south and Ma'alot-Tarshiha, Kiryat Shmona, Katzrin, Beit She'an, Safed, Nahariya, Tiberias, Migdal Ha'emek and Carmiel in the north. Many rural communities were also included in the new map, among them Tirat Zvi in the north and Kerem Shalom and Netiv Ha'asara in the south.

Among the West Bank Jewish settlements accorded priority status on the new map is Nokdim, the home of Yisrael Beiteinu party head Avigdor Lieberman, who recently resigned as foreign minister. Other Jewish settlements on the national priority map include Kiryat Arba, Ma'aleh Efraim, Efrat, Ariel, Yitzhar, Elon Moreh, Tekoa, Beit El, Kfar Tapuah, Beitar Ilit, Psagot, Shavei Shomron and Shiloh.

Emil Salman