Knesset again postpones vote on Netanyahu´s flagship housing reform (HAŽARETZ NEWS) By Jonathan Lis 03/21/12)
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The Knesset has deferred debate on Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu´s flagship housing reform due to a dispute over some of the
provisions between two of his coalition partners, Shas and Yisrael
Political sources said Tuesday that the delay could doom the
legislation. Knesset elections must be held by the fall of next year,
they explained, and the closer the elections get, the harder it will
be for Netanyahu to get his coalition partners to come to a consensus.
Knesset members said Netanyahu has acknowledged in recent weeks that
if the special Knesset committee set up to approve the bill did not
complete its work by the Knesset´s spring recess, which begins
tomorrow, he would have trouble garnering a majority. The prime
minister initially aimed to have the plenum pass the legislation in
final reading today, but now he will apparently have to give up even
on his fallback position: that the committee approve the bill before
the recess begins, so the plenum could vote as soon as parliament
reconvenes in May.
The bill is designed to streamline approval of small construction
projects, but would also provide subsidies for the construction of
affordable housing. The dispute is over eligibility criteria for
obtaining this housing: Shas wants criteria that favor its ultra-
Orthodox constituents, while Yisrael Beiteinu is pushing for measures
that it says would favor members of the middle class.
Shas inserted a provision requiring the criteria to be approved by
the prime minister, finance minister and housing and construction
minister. The housing minister, Ariel Atias, is a Shas MK.
But Yisrael Beiteinu wants the subsidized housing to be limited to
people who have "exhausted their earning potential" but still can´t
afford a house. To make this more likely, it is demanding that the
criteria require approval by the full cabinet.
The special committee considering the bill convened repeatedly to
debate its 650 clauses, but opposition from Yisrael Beiteinu MKs
prevented it from approving the legislation.
In an effort to get Yisrael Beiteinu´s support, Netanyahu recently
proposed bringing the matter to the full cabinet. But before the
cabinet could convene, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz signed off on
the criteria proposed by Atias and the Israel Lands Administration.
Another attempt at compromise, which would have had Tourism Minister
Stas Misezhnikov of Yisrael Beiteinu joining the prime minister,
finance minister and housing minister in approving the criteria, also
MK Dov Khenin (Hadash ), who has been leading the parliamentary fight
against the proposed housing reform, said yesterday that quite aside
from the Shas-Yisrael Beiteinu dispute, there is a growing
realization among MKs that it would be a mistake to pass the bill.
Though the legislation´s goal is to streamline approval of minor
construction such as the enclosure of balconies, and thereby also to
lower costs, Khenin said it would "create extreme chaos" in the
planning process and would thus actually increase housing costs.
MK Faina Kirshenbaum, who represented her Yisrael Beiteinu party in
negotiations over the bill, said that failing to include "exhaustion
of earning potential" among the criteria for affordable housing hurts
the middle class, which "works, pays taxes, serves in the army and
does reserve duty, and effectively bears all of the country´s burdens
on its shoulders." She urged the prime minister to support this
MK Amnon Cohen of Shas, who chairs the committee that has been
entrusted with approving the bill, said yesterday, "I regret that the
work that has been carried out for two years has not been concluded
for reasons that do not relate at all to the reform." He said his
committee has served the public´s interests and would continue to do
so when the Knesset reconvenes. (© Copyright 2012 Ha´aretz 03/21/12)
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