The Privatization of the Landscape

The decision to reform the Israel Lands Administration is intended to improve service to the wealthy, who will be able to grab a good deal of Israel's lands.

The new government has quickly found a tree that is easy to climb, cut down, detach from its roots and build on the land on which it stands. This tree is called the Israel Lands Administration, and over the years it has become too wild and complex to prune or maintain.

The ILA has gained a reputation as a cumbersome bureaucracy that causes the public great suffering. Accordingly, the government plans to replace it with a "government lands authority," a move it is making in the name of improving service to its citizens. However, people should be concerned that to a great extent the move is intended to improve service to the wealthy, who will be able to grab a good deal of Israel's lands.

According to the government's plan, private entrepreneurs will be able to promote and approve building projects in areas where the planning process has still not been completed. Farmers will receive additional compensation for farmland that has been rezoned, and can themselves initiate plans to rezone the land. This will all be implemented through the expedited means of the Economic Arrangements Law, without consulting the public. The environmental protection minister is not a member of the committee discussing the planned reform.

The meaning of this real-estate field day is that the coalition of construction companies, lawyers and wheeler-dealers from the agricultural sector who enjoy a close relationship with political decision-makers will once again be able to lay its hands on what so far has been preserved as a public asset, making a huge fortune while at it.

Public and legal battles in recent years have led to a reversal of the decisions that allowed farmers to indiscriminately and very profitably rezone lands they had received in trust to cultivate. Moreover, the government planning system has realized that open areas must be protected. It has made plans to direct construction mainly to urban areas, where utilization of land and infrastructure is more efficient and a mass transport system can be built.

However, the new land reforms take advantage of the many faults that have been discovered over the years in the way the ILA carries out its work, in order to competely undermine the concept of land as a valuable public resource in a country where resources are limited.

The move to privatize land and the spread of construction to agricultural lands will have far-reaching social and economic implications. It is an unprecedented incentive to weaken Israel's urban centers, whose "strong" populations and businesses will leave for houses in the country and employment nearby. It is also a huge waste of the infrastructure that will have to be thrown far and wide to serve all the construction that will develop with the privatization and rezoning of land.

No economist from the school that designed the land reform will be able to assess the damage to the environment and nature. The truth is that decision-makers, imbued with a sense of mission to strengthen the real-estate market, do not seem to be bothered by that aspect.

The damage will be significant not only to the landscape, flora and fauna, but to the basic quality of life in Israel. Open spaces, where people can formulate their sense of belonging to the place they live, will be robbed from them forever. If, as they say, your identity is formed by the perception of the landscape of your homeland, that perception for the average Israeli will consist of a red-roofed house with a yard, another road and another car.