Olmert and the Planners

Olmert's worldview is based on the principle that entrepreneurs should be allowed to operate without interference and without anyone asking bothersome questions about the links between capital and government.

The fact that the vice prime minister, Ehud Olmert, has been preoccupied of late with matters of state and, until recently, with the media market as well, has tended to make people forget that he is also responsible for one of the most important bodies in the country - the Israel Lands Administration. The truth is that Olmert is also very active in managing the land. This month he provided a reminder about the worldview that guides him as chairman of the ILA Council. It came in the course of a conference on "Land, Capital and Government," which was held under the auspices of Tel Aviv University, the Knesset Commission for Future Generations and the university's School of Environmental Studies.

Olmert's worldview is based on the principle that entrepreneurs should be allowed to operate without interference and without anyone asking bothersome questions about the links between capital and government. The entrepreneurs have at their disposal reserves of open spaces that hold building potential for future generations.

The decisive question is of course where and how much to build. To facilitate such decisions, Olmert believes we should dispose of district planning commissions, which only delay plans and thus encourage corruption to overcome the delays, he says. Olmert made light of those who stand in the way of the entrepreneurs who want to put this conception into practice. He told the audience that the planning commissions are packed with self-righteous, lazy people who don't bother attending the meetings. The press, he said, would in any case distort his remarks.

The way in which this approach is implemented can be seen in decisions by the ILA Council, notably Resolution 979, approved 18 months ago. That decision granted the kibbutzim and moshavim extensive residential and commercial building rights and made it possible to lease land to external commercial interests. The attorney general noted, in an opinion he published earlier this month, that this far-reaching decision was made without a factual professional foundation. He stated that it should not be approved.

Olmert's worldview is reflected as well in his fierce opposition to the plan to create the Ayalon Park without construction in part of the area - a plan recently approved by a subcommittee of the National Planning and Building Commission. "They know no limits and they have no good judgment," Olmert said of the planning bodies that approved the park. "Anyone who thinks he will underwrite a park like this from the public treasury will end up causing distorted procedures and will be inviting corrupt manipulations. ... Ayalon Park will not come into being," he said confidently. "Remember what I am telling you."

The fact that all the senior planning bodies in Israel held lengthy discussions about the park made no impression on Olmert. He ignores the fact that some of the mayors of the big cities in the area support the park, precisely on the basis of good judgment. One wonders what he would think if the mayors were to claim that he lacks good judgment and knows no limits when, as mayor of Jerusalem, he never stopped pushing for the city's boundaries to be extended at the expense of open areas.

Surprisingly, given the fact that he is a Likud and Herut (the Likud's forerunner) person from youth, Olmert's behavior recalls that of the leaders of Mapai, the forerunner of Labor. They too were enamored with gung-ho entrepreneurs who asked for grants and shortcuts in return for projects they promoted. They too disliked it when the public started asking too many questions, and when experts and planners criticized what they were doing, as is also customary in countries that invented free enterprise.

The vice prime minister undoubtedly feels frustrated because in contrast to the Mapai period, there is now a more determined public that will not forgo parks and open areas. There are legal and other experts who will search out the true significance of the decisions of the ILA Council, and there are judicial bodies that will agree with those findings. There are also experts who contradict his argument that the planning procedures in regard to construction in Israel are far slower than those of other countries. They will also explain to him how it's possible to make the work of the planning commissions more efficient without eliminating them. It's no wonder that in the face of so many bothersome people and bodies the vice prime minister lacks patience, and that after delivering his address at the university he rushed off without bothering to answer questions.