No Room for Environment Minister in Israel's Housing Cabinet

Green concerns already sprouting as Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay takes post.

Nimrod Glickman

Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay (Kulanu) assumed his new position at the beginning of the week, but environmental organizations already have cause for concern. At present, Gabbay will not be a member of the housing cabinet, as were his predecessors. The Prime Minister’s Office invited only the ministry’s director general, who has no vote, unlike the other housing cabinet members. Members of the committee include Religious Affairs Minister David Azoulay (Shas) and Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev (Likud), who have only a minimal connection to planning and construction issues. At the end of Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised that there would be changes in the composition of the committee.

According to a proposal dealing with approval of the new composition of the committee, the cabinet will be authorized to set policy in the area of planning and building, with an emphasis on residential construction. In addition, it is supposed to promote construction projects and declare preferred areas for housing. These areas, which are earmarked to include particularly large construction plans, will after be sent for discussion in the committee for preferential housing planning.

The new composition of the housing cabinet, whose official name is the Ministerial Committee for Planning, Construction and Housing, was decided on by the PMO. It is headed by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, and includes the ministers of construction, economy, education, agriculture, national infrastructure, immigration and absorption, transportation, tourism, the interior and Minister Without Portfolio Ofir Akunis.

The decision not to include the environmental protection minister in the cabinet sparked a harsh protest by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, which turned to Kahlon.

The SPNI says that the decision is unacceptable. “How can a committee that discusses and decides on projects of significant environmental importance fail to include the Environmental Protection Ministry? The ministry should be among the leaders in the cabinet, in order to maintain balanced development and the interests of environmental quality, health and the lives of Israel’s residents. We are all concerned about the housing shortage, but any development must take into account all the interests of Israeli residents.”

The SPNI added: “The injustice is even more blatant when you see representatives from other ministries, whose work is not necessarily related, on the committee.”

The SPNI called on Kahlon to promise that the Environmental Protection Ministry would be represented in the housing cabinet. Gabbay is said to be working to change the decision.

The cabinet approved another disturbing decision Tuesday: subordinating the Israel Lands Authority and the Planning Administration to the finance ministry. This decision was sent for the ministries’ approval at 1 A.M., and their legal bureaus were supposed to respond by 10 A.M. Of course that was impossible, and the cabinet voted on the decision without the input of the professionals.