Israel to privatise kibbutzim

IT IS THE biggest land grab since the foundation of the state of Israel. The value of the property to be transferred is put at $60bn (pounds 40bn) - but it has nothing to do with Israeli settlers taking Palestinian land.

At stake is a quarter of the habitable land in Israel. Hitherto it has been leased by the state to kibbutzim, Israel's famed socialist farming communities, co-operatives and private farmers. Now it is to be largely privatised, to the immense benefit of the three per cent of the Israeli population who live on the land.

The cabinet is scheduled to discuss the new proposals on land ownership today, with every chance that it will give the go-ahead. When it has done so, says Ari Shavit, the Israeli commentator, "a farmer in the centre of the country will be eligible to receive from the government an instant gift of somewhere between a few hundred thousand and a few million dollars".

It means the passing of the kibbutzim, once the symbol of Israeli egalitarianism, whose future wealth will come from property sales and development. Dr Alexander Kedar, a specialist in Israeli land law at Haifa University, says the kibbutzniks "will become a community of rich landowners".

Some of those whose forefathers came to Israel as socialist pioneers will become very rich indeed. For years they leased land, originally purchased or confiscated from Palestinians, from the state. They did not own it. If they ceased to use it as agricultural land they would get only its value for growing crops or raising livestock. Even if the market value of the land for industry or housing was pounds 300,000, they would get only pounds 10,000.

It is this that is about to change. Throughout the 1990s the agricultural lobby, one of the most powerful in Israel, has fought for real property rights and is on the verge of success. Not only socialist enterprises, but private agricultural concerns can see enormous profits now very close on the horizon.

Full private ownership will not be granted, but there is more than enough to satisfy property developers. Agricultural land will be leased for 196 years. There can be unlimited building on residential land, which can then be sold, while farmers will get between 20 and 60 per cent of the value of the land which is re-zoned for development. The farmers will be able to take advantage of Israel's soaring property prices, which have been driven upwards by the arrival of a million Russian Jewish immigrants. The country is not large: if the Negev desert is not included, then Israel's population density is greater than Holland's.

Despite the enomous sums involved, 97 per cent of Israelis will see no benefit from this change in ownership. "It will create a tiny group which controls most of the land," said Dr Kedar. "Israel will resemble parts of Latin America with large latifundia [estates] It is a regressive agricultural revolution."

Israeli politics is so fixated on the relationship with the Palestinians and the future of the West Bank that these radical changes in property rights have received little attention. But there is another reason why politicians avoid the topic - there is a rainbow coalition of potential beneficiaries, stretching from the left-wing kibbutzniks to Ariel Sharon, the right-wing foreign minister, who is one of the larger farmers in the country. This cross-party alliance of landed Israelis has stifled debate in the Knesset.

Ari Shavit, writing in the daily Haaretz, says the coalition which has campaigned for seven years for a change in land ownership in Israel has worn down resistance by a few government officials. He concludes: "This coalition, thanks to its ramified but hidden connections with some of the biggest real estate firms and some of the most high-powered lawyers, is one of the strongest pressure groups in Israel."

The opening up of some 750,000 acres of land will do more than create a small caste of property owners. With an estimated 150,000 housing units being built on kibbutzim and moshavim (co-operatives), it will speed up the suburbanisation of Israel.

Dr Kedar argues that after the question of the future of the occupied territories, it is the most important decision facing the country. Israeli government experts estimate that the value of the property rights to be transferred may be closer to $80bn than $60bn. With the prospect of such rewards, none of those pushing for a change in the law are likely to be deflected now.

Ninety years after their movement was started, the kibbutzniks' socialist ideology has largely evaporated. They have lost their prestige as ascetic patriots, willing to turn their hand to the gun or the plough, depending on the needs of the country.

At Ma'ale Hahamisha, a kibbutz just east of Jerusalem, Ofra Pisetzky wonders if the movement will survive. "Society is changing," she said. "It is losing its solidarity. Youngsters would like to be the same as successful people in the city whom they see on TV." Once Israel's revolution in land ownership is complete, they may well be able to do so.

Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features playground gun massacre
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations should be regarded as an offensive act
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Morrissey pictured in 2013
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Training Programme Manager (Learning and Development)-London

£28000 - £32000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manage...

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices