Land Deal Would Have State, JNF Swap 60,000 Dunams

Move designed to render redundant controversial JNF bill, which would allow organization to continue leasing lands only to Jews.

An emerging land swap agreement between the Israel Lands Administration and the Jewish National Fund is likely to encompass 60,000 dunams from each side: The JNF will transfer 60,000 dunams of developed land to the ILA in exchange for 60,000 dunams of open space.

The deal is designed to render redundant the controversial JNF bill, which would allow the organization to continue leasing its lands only to Jews.

JNF Chair Effi Stenzler told Haaretz Monday that 90 percent of the land the JNF receives will be in the Negev and 10 percent in the Galilee. The state will also pay an undetermined sum to the JNF, which has asked for NIS 900 million. That is substantially higher than the state's offer.

JNF Deputy Chair Menachem Leibowitz told Haaretz that urban JNF land sold in the future to non-Jews would include an automatic swap mechanism: The fund would transfer the land to the ILA, and in exchange would receive the purchase price plus a similar-sized plot in the Negev.

During a Knesset Economics Committee debate on the JNF bill yesterday, Committee Chair Gilad Erdan several times suggested anchoring the developing swap agreement in legislation. But Leibowitz told the panel that the JNF's management had been authorized by its board to negotiate a land swap with the Finance Ministry and the ILA, and there is no need for legislation.

Erdan also repeatedly asked representatives of human rights groups attending the meeting whether they plan to petition the High Court of Justice against the swap. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel suggested that it foresaw legal problems with the swap.

A Knesset research paper indicates that the JNF paid the state full price for absentee Arab land in the 1950s, in contradiction to claims by Arab parties that the state transferred the lands for symbolic fees. The document also shows that the JNF owns a little over 2.5 million dunams, close to 12 percent of all state lands. The organization bought almost half of that from the state.