One of the biggest and most persistent mysteries of Israel is its high housing prices. The solution is fairly easy, after all: As everyone knows, to lower prices, it’s necessary to increase the amount of land in the center of the country available for residential construction and to greatly decrease the duration of the approval process. So why isn’t this happening? Is it deliberate?
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This week’s evacuation of Amona provided the answer. Just as it was beginning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced the approval of 3,000 new housing units in the territories, in addition to the 2,500 that were previously announced. Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz also had big news this week. He described a plan to spend 5 billion shekels ($1.25 billion) to improve the road infrastructure in the West Bank, even though the roads there are in much better shape than those in Israel proper. It would include widening existing roads; building new roads, interchanges and tunnels as well as rail links between Ariel and Petah Tikva and between Ma’aleh Adumim and Jerusalem. “The five-year plan will give a big push to the development of Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria,” Katz said.
And that’s when it hit me: Israel’s high home prices aren’t due to the failure of well-intentioned efforts. The endless traffic jams are not the result of random events. They are part of a political master plan to attract more and more Israelis to move eastward, to increase their number to the point where it will no longer be possible to evacuate them and the two-state solution will die a natural death.
This plan was conceived of decades ago by people from the Greater Israel camp, who realized that the biggest problem faced by young couples in Israel was buying their first home. So they concocted a sophisticated numbers game, taking steps to reduce home prices in Jewish settlements in the territories while jacking them up within Israel proper.
They accomplished the former goal through the national budget. They offered land in the territories at no cost, regardless of demand and the tremendous expense of building on the rocky, hilly ground. They also saw to it that building permits in the territories would be issued lightning-fast, in stark contrast to the norm within the Green Line. They also gave settlers tax breaks and other economic benefits, turning Judea into a welfare state.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Green Line, it was the complete opposite. The Israel Lands Administration consistently failed to meet the demand for land zoned for residential construction, causing an ongoing increase in home prices. The agency was always headed by right-wing cabinet ministers, who took care to maintain this discriminatory policy. At the same time, they made no serious efforts to reduce the bureaucracy, because the bureaucracy serves their objectives: It causes construction delays and increases expenses, adding to housing costs.
The same thing is happening in regard to transportation. The Tel Aviv light rail project is stuck, not by chance but on purpose. The poor state of public transportation is part of the same master plan, as are the growing traffic jams in the big cities, which also contribute to rising home prices.
True, there is no written documentation of this plan, nor are their recordings to prove it, but circumstances show that all of the right-wing governments of the past decades have followed it.
So no one should be surprised that Netanyahu, Lieberman and Katz are moving to accelerate construction and improve transportation — in the territories. Nor is it a surprise to hear Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon say: “I never said we’d lower housing prices.” Of course he won’t. That would go against the master plan.