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.

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker