The reform in the Israel Land Administration (ILA) is officially underway: The Knesset voted in favor of the Land Reform Bill Monday, with 61 Knesset members entering a yea vote and 45 objecting.
The ILA reformation aims to give local authorities more say in land allocation by diluting some of the ILA and its six district commissions' authority in the matter.
The bill's approval was guaranteed after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Labor Chairman Ehud Barak struck a compromise on some of the new bill's articles.
Netanyahu also announced he would be forming a ministerial committee to study the various aspects of the reform further.
Among those voting against the reform were Habayit Hayehudi MKs Zevulun Orlev and Uri Orbach, as well as MK Shelly Yacimovich (Labor). Also voting against the bill were the four Labor "rebels" MKs Eitan Cabel, Ophir Pines-Paz, Amir Peretz and Yuli Tamir.
The heated debate saw coalition and opposition members lash out at each other, to the point that Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin had to call the House to order: "If this is the way you behave no wonder the public thinks this is a circus," he said.
Heated debate. The vote (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Both Netanyahu and Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias seemd elated after the bill passed its vote, with the latter saying that "the public should be very happy. This is an excellent law that we have been waiting for, for many years."
Kadima was quick to slam Labor for "caving in, making it directly responsible for the privatization of national land… it has be been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is easier to plunder national land than it is to separate Labor MKs with their government seats."
The 'great land heist?'MK Yacimovich added that she was "ashamed of my party's vote," and Meretz Chairman Chaim Oron noted that Labor's consent to the bill "was evidence of their tragic ideological bankruptcy."
Sources in Habayit Hayehudi Party slammed Chairman Rabbi Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz's decision to vote in favor of the bill, calling it a "disgrace." MK Orlev said that the party "failed to demonstrate its ideological stand, which is widely supported by the religious Zionist public."
Hershkowitz defended his vote, saying that "the days when a right-wing party would topple a right-wing government are long gone. The party agreed not to withdraw from the coalition and the prime minister made it clear that not attending with vote would mean just that. I acted according to my responsibilities as the party's chairman."
The Arab parties were enraged by the vote: Balad Chairman Jamal Zahalka called the reform "the great land heist": "This law will bar Arabs from residing in dozens of communities. The Arab public does not recognize the legitimacy of this law and anything that derives from it."
Many environmental groups also criticized the government's move: "Netanyahu's government, in an abrupt move, pushed a radical change in the State's unique property policies, turning land from a public resource to a marketplace product," said Society for Protection of Nature in Israel.
An Israel Union for Environmental Defense statement added that "The Israeli public finds itself facing a new reality today, where the government has decided to abandon public interests and give the wealthy control over one of the most important national resources. We will do everything we can to fight this."
Attila Somfalvi, Ronen Medzini and Sharon Roffe-Ofir contributed to this report