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Monday, June 08, 2009

The revenants' new best friend?

Fifteen years ago, Shas chairman Aryeh Deri was the ultra-Orthodox community's darling of the Left. Deri himself seemed to believe in 'territorial compromise' and was close to Leftist icon Yossi Beilin, and Shas' spiritual mentor, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, publicized halachic opinions that stated that it is permitted to turn over land to the 'Palestinians' in order to save lives - allegedly at Deri's behest.

As recently as last year, Shas was keeping the Olmert-Barak-Livni government afloat by staying in it, although it later came out that Shas had made an agreement with the Likud not to allow Tzipi Livni to form a government, thus precipitating the election we had in February. Now Interior Minister and Shas leader Eli Yishai is said to be aggressively using his ministry to allow the revenants to continue building within the 'settlement blocs.'
Haaretz has learned that Yishai has instructed officials at the Interior Ministry to come up with ways to help the settlers, by allowing continued construction within the major West Bank settlement blocs where building has stopped as a result of American pressure. [Note: It has to make you wonder what all the arguments with the Obama administration are about if de facto there is no building going on even within the 'settlement blocs.' CiJ].

Yishai wants to include additional built-up areas within the city limits of towns in the major settlement blocs, effectively expanding those cities' boundaries. Adjustment of the city limits, which is within the purview of the Interior Ministry, can mean the addition of several square kilometers to a locale's jurisdiction - or the subtraction of said amount of land.

Yishai thus plans to ensure that city limits will be calculated in as liberal a way as possible, so that construction can eventually take place in the few additional square kilometers, to accommodate the "natural increase" of the population.

In addition, Yishai is hoping to allocate funding from the "interior minister's reserves" to benefit settlements in the West Bank. These funds, amounting to several tens of millions of shekels, are distributed at the discretion of the minister without having to meet certain usual criteria.

The heads of the Yesha Council said they had the impression from their meeting with Yishai that the minister intended to allocate funding to the settlements from the ministerial reserves to "correct the existing distortion."

Yishai also plans to change the law mandating special funding for outlying communities, which at present discriminates against the West Bank settlements, in his view. He said he wants to ensure that the law will help the peripheral areas, but will also be altered so as not to be biased.
Note what's not under discussion: direct subsidies to people moving to Judea and Samaria. To understand what's missing, you need to know a little about how the housing market here works.

Certain Israelis are entitled to government-subsidized mortgages. In general, those Israelis are people who do not own any share in an apartment in Israel (generally young married couples and new immigrants), and people who are defined as living in 'cramped' conditions - defined as any apartment in which there are less than 10 square meters per person (yes, really). A small part of each government subsidized mortgage turns into a grant (or at least it did when we took ours in 1994).

The government attempts to get people to move to the periphery by increasing the size of the government-subsidized mortgages (which are not huge to start with) and by turning larger parts of them into grants if you are buying an apartment in what's called a 'national priority area.' Until the early '90's, Judea and Samaria were 'national priority areas.' After Oslo, that was no longer the case. The main 'national priority areas' today are the Negev and the Galilee. That's why we say there are no more 'direct subsidies' for moving to Judea and Samaria (by the way, there's also a break on income taxes for living in 'national priority areas' that people in Judea and Samaria don't get).

That hasn't staunched the movement of people to Judea and Samaria. As any economist will tell you, if you remove the subsidy from housing, the price will drop accordingly (which makes you wonder why the government subsidizes in the first place - a good question).

What did lessen the flow of people moving to Judea and Samaria were the intifada (which made it dangerous to live in many places there) and the Gaza expulsion (which made people realize that it could happen 'here'). But housing there is still cheap and there are still people who move to Judea and Samaria for economic (as opposed to ideological) reasons.

So what does Eli Yishai have to do with all of this, and why has he suddenly become such a big supporter of the revenants ('settlers')? You all keep hearing about how the Jewish population of Judea and Samaria is growing so rapidly. Much of that growth has come in two cities that hug the green line. One is called Kiryat Sefer/Modiin Ilit and the other is called Beitar. Those cities are nearly exclusively ultra-Orthodox. Not surprising. People with large families in which the husband studies Torah full time and does not work at a mundane job look for cheap housing.

Eli Yishai wants them to vote for his party, and not for the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism. Hence it is good politics for him to support the 'settlement movement.'

No, Eli Yishai has not become an ideologue of the 'Greater Land of Israel.' He's playing politics.


At 12:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From the people who brought us the Oslo Accords, sanctioned by "Da'at Torah."

I wrote a lot more but erased it. That ought to do for the moment.

At 1:03 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

The secular Zionists wanted to create a secular state and post-Zionism was the logical corollary of that vision. Oslo was used by the Israeli Left as means to destroy national religious Zionism and the revanants identified with them but its not worked out the way it hoped. Today in Israel, the Jewish religious sector is finding common ground on the Jewish State which may well come to be truly Jewish after all. And Aryeh Deri's promise of assistance to the revanants shows where the country will be going in the future.


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