JNF, treasury seek formula for continued Jews-only land sales (HA´ARETZ NEWS) By Yuval Yoaz 01/28/05)
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The Jewish National Fund and the Finance Ministry are currently
trying to draft a new agreement that would separate the JNF from the
state, thereby allowing it to continue selling land to Jews only.
The negotiations - which are being backed by Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon, Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Vice Premier Ehud
Olmert, who is responsible for the Israel Lands Administration - have
made considerable progress, and the agreement is likely to be signed
in the coming months, according to sources involved in the talks.
In 1961, the JNF signed an agreement with the state under which the
ILA assumed responsibility for managing and marketing all JNF lands.
However, since the JNF is a private organization that was explicitly
founded to serve the interests of the Jewish people, the ILA refused
to sell these lands to non-Jews, at the JNF´s insistence.
This policy was recently challenged in the High Court of Justice, on
the grounds that the ILA, as a state organization, is not allowed to
discriminate between Jews and non-Jews. On Wednesday, Attorney
General Menachem Mazuz decided that the petitioners are right. From
now on, JNF lands will be available to Jews and non-Jews alike -
though the ILA will compensate the JNF with substitute land for any
plot purchased by a non-Jew.
Senior JNF officials stressed that the current talks began several
years ago, long before human rights organizations petitioned the
court against the "Jews only" policy six months ago. The original
decision to "separate the JNF from the state" had nothing to do with
Mazuz´s decision on Wednesday, they said, but his decision does lend
new urgency to the talks.
Currently, the JNF owns some 13 percent of all public lands in
Israel. The new agreement, if finalized, would return these lands to
the JNF and return the JNF to being a strictly private body that
manages and markets its own lands. In exchange, the JNF would give up
its 13 seats on the ILA´s 27-member board of directors. However, the
state is considering allowing the JNF to retain seven to nine
representatives on the board.
The emerging agreement also calls for a land swap between the state
and the JNF. The latter owns tens of thousands of dunams of developed
land in major urban centers; these lands, though very valuable, no
longer provide any income to the JNF and have no real potential for
profit. In exchange for these tracts, the state will give the JNF the
same amount of dunams in outlying areas - primarily in the Negev,
where the JNF currently has almost no land. That will enable the JNF
to continue fulfilling its original purpose of "redeeming and
developing" land, for instance, by initiating construction projects
in development towns.
The state will also guarantee the JNF an income of at least NIS 500
million a year, meaning that if the organization fails to earn that
much by marketing its lands in a given year, the state will make up
In addition, the state is considering assuming the JNF´s pension
obligations to its retirees. If it does so, however, the amount it
spends on pensions will be deducted from the JNF´s guaranteed income,
senior JNF officials said.
The officials said that the rationale for the agreement is partially
economic, but its main goal is to enable the organization to fulfill
its role as "a trustee for the Jewish people."
JNF Chairman Yehiel Leket confirmed the existence of the talks, but
declined to discuss details, saying nothing has been finalized. The
treasury declined to comment, while the ILA said it is not involved
in the negotiations. (© Copyright 2005 Haaretz. 01/28/05)
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