The media-hyped protest of a housing shortage has hit its target – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who told the Cabinet Sunday the root cause of the problem is a government land monopoly.
After the campaigns to free kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit at all costs and to lower the cost of cottage cheese and milk failed to swell into massive street revolutions against the government, Israel’s mainstream media have fueled the housing protests by providing running commentary with inciting remarks.
The ostensible aim is to provide more residential units and lower prices, but the focus has been Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has been blamed for everything from the captivity of Schalit (who was abducted during the Olmert administration) to the decades-old oligarchy of companies that control Israel’s food industry.
Feeling mounting pressure as students, many on vacation, continue their “tent city” demonstration, the Prime Minister said he “identified” the housing crisis even before taking office two and half years ago.
“Even before I became Prime Minister, I asked a professional committee headed by [Finance Ministry]Yuval Steinitz to prepare a plan to resolve the fundamental problem of the housing market in Israel,” he told the Cabinet,
He empathized with “young people [who] are struggling, discharged soldiers [who] find themselves with insufficient means and young couples [who] have nowhere to live because apartments are too expensive.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu put the blame squarely on the government monopoly of land, which he said “holds more than 90 percent of the land in Israel and it is not releasing it.”
He called Israel’s bureaucratic system of planning committees “the most cumbersome in the western world or nearly so” and charged that the Israel Land Administration “releases few apartments at astronomical prices.”
Providing “genuine answers” to the housing problem requires reforming the system, and this will begin taking effect this week, he added. The Prime Minister also told the Cabinet that in the past two years, he has “cancelled the previous government's absurd ban on construction in the Dan region. Second, we gave grants worth NIS 100,000 ($29,500) to 28 communities in the periphery.”
Showing obvious uneasiness in the face of the political pressure, he stated, “I know that what we are saying here is being scoffed at by some but they also scoffed at the major reforms we enacted in the economy and today we see the economic situation.”
Ironically, leaders of the protest movement include environmentalists, who have opposed dozens of housing projects, and anti-nationalist groups who have fought against building new homes in Judea and Samaria.