Tractor plows field in Israel
Tractor plows field in IsraelFlash 90

The agenda for a recent session of the Knesset's Ministerial Committee for Legislation included the hearing of a bill drafted jointly by MK Bezalel Smotrich (National Union) and Yoav Kish (Likud). The legislation, which would regulate the World Zionist Organization's Rural Growth and Development Division, has the potential to profoundly affect land-use policy in the majority of communities in Judea and Samaria, which are classified as "rural communities."

In what might be considered a highly ironic twist of fate, the bill, which has been buried in committee for months, was due to be heard on the eve of Jerusalem Day, celebrating the reunification of Israel's capital in 1967. Unfortunately, the spirit of Jerusalem Day wasn't enough to override the stalling tactics that have been masterfully applied to keep this legislation at the bottom of the pile.

Nokdim, Gush Etzion east, Israel
Nokdim, Gush Etzion east, IsraelFlash 90

The bill was originally scheduled for debate during the Knesset's winter session but was postponed repeatedly. In the final committee hearing of the winter session, the Prime Minister requested that the vote be postponed to the summer session.

In recent days, it has become clear that the PM's closest circle has been trying to promote an alternative for regulation of the Rural Growth and Development Division without making legislative changes. The PM's suggestion, drafted by Attorney General Mandelblit, would place allocation of land, including land already allocated by the Rural Division, under the auspices of the Israel Land Authority.

Following the 1967 Six Day War, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol appointed the World Zionist Organization's (WZO) Settlement Division as the operational arm of the Government of Israel in matters regarding the establishment of new communities in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. The WZO had been overseeing establishment of Jewish settlements throughout Israel for decades, and was clearly best equipped to meet the challenges facing the nation in the aftermath of the stunning territorial gains of the war.

Gush Etzion, Israel
Gush Etzion, IsraelFlash 90

Prime Minister Eshkol established the ground rules which have been in place ever since: All land slated for creation and development of rural communities was to be placed under the auspices of this division, whose status as an operational arm of the State was anchored in legislation. The WZO signed long-term contracts with the Civil Administration, enabling the Rural Development Division to lease land (in a sub-contracting arrangement) to individuals or incorporated communities to create rural settlements. The legislation proposed by Smotrich and Kish would grant official, legal standing to the sub-contracting arrangement in use for 50 years. This is where Prime Minister Netanyahu has identified an opportunity to create more direct government control over the system.

Haresha seen from Dolev
Haresha seen from DolevMordechai Sones

An expert in the field of land-use policy well-versed in the details of the proposed legislation as well as the Prime Minister's alternative plan explained the Prime Minister's plan would enable the government to impose a complete building freeze throughout Judea and Samaria at any given moment. "To date, the government was involved in rural communities only on the level of approval of plans. Once approved, the actual building process went ahead unhindered, because the Rural Growth and Development Division was free to allocate land for construction. If the Prime Minister's suggestion is adopted, authority for land allocation will be transferred to the ILA. In this situation, any political whim that could lead to a building freeze that will completely paralyze the growth of non-urban communities, as has been the case in recent years for urban communities throughout Judea and Samaria.

"It seems that the Prime Minister is attempting to do to the Settlement Division what he did only last week to the Judicial Overrule Clause," added the source. "We hope the Justice Minister presents the bill to the Ministerial Committee, as per the requirements for all proposed legislation, and blocks the alternative plan - which poses a far greater threat to the future of our communities."

NetanyahuFlash 90