Green concerns already sprouting as Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay takes post.
By Zafrir Rinat | May 20, 2015

Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay (Kulanu) assumed his new position at the beginning of the week, but environmental organizations already have cause for concern. At present, Gabbay will not be a member of the housing cabinet, as were his predecessors. The Prime Minister’s Office invited only the ministry’s director general, who has no vote, unlike the other housing cabinet members. Members of the committee include Religious Affairs Minister David Azoulay (Shas) and Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev (Likud), who have only a minimal connection to planning and construction issues. At the end of Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised that there would be changes in the composition of the committee.

According to a proposal dealing with approval of the new composition of the committee, the cabinet will be authorized to set policy in the area of planning and building, with an emphasis on residential construction. In addition, it is supposed to promote construction projects and declare preferred areas for housing. These areas, which are earmarked to include particularly large construction plans, will after be sent for discussion in the committee for preferential housing planning.

The new composition of the housing cabinet, whose official name is the Ministerial Committee for Planning, Construction and Housing, was decided on by the PMO. It is headed by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, and includes the ministers of construction, economy, education, agriculture, national infrastructure, immigration and absorption, transportation, tourism, the interior and Minister Without Portfolio Ofir Akunis.

The decision not to include the environmental protection minister in the cabinet sparked a harsh protest by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, which turned to Kahlon.

The SPNI says that the decision is unacceptable. “How can a committee that discusses and decides on projects of significant environmental importance fail to include the Environmental Protection Ministry? The ministry should be among the leaders in the cabinet, in order to maintain balanced development and the interests of environmental quality, health and the lives of Israel’s residents. We are all concerned about the housing shortage, but any development must take into account all the interests of Israeli residents.”

The SPNI added: “The injustice is even more blatant when you see representatives from other ministries, whose work is not necessarily related, on the committee.”

The SPNI called on Kahlon to promise that the Environmental Protection Ministry would be represented in the housing cabinet. Gabbay is said to be working to change the decision.

The cabinet approved another disturbing decision Tuesday: subordinating the Israel Lands Authority and the Planning Administration to the finance ministry. This decision was sent for the ministries’ approval at 1 A.M., and their legal bureaus were supposed to respond by 10 A.M. Of course that was impossible, and the cabinet voted on the decision without the input of the professionals.
JERUSALEM POST Cabinet OKs restricted housing cabinet, but leaves environment out
The exclusion of the Environmental Protection Minister from the Housing Cabinet raised concerns from green groups.
The cabinet on Tuesday approved a restructured housing cabinet that excludes the environmental protection minister and also approved the redistribution of housing-related bodies into the Finance Ministry.

In his coalition negotiation deal, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon demanded that he take control of the Israel Lands Authority from the Construction Ministry – which his Kulanu party holds anyway – and the planning administration from the Interior Ministry.

Taking the two authorities under his own control, Kahlon said Tuesday, “is the first step in a complicated journey to dealing with the housing crisis.” He pushed for the measures to be expedited through the Knesset.

The Finance Ministry said that the central element for curbing increasing home prices is increasing supply, which the Bank of Israel has consistently cited as the crucial factor. Supply fell off drastically at the end of the last decade, though in recent years housing starts have returned to a level BOI said would be consistent with eventually stabilizing prices. Though the number of units planned on average each year rose from 25,000 from 2007-2011 to 68,000 from 2012-2014, according to the ministry, more needs to be done.

But the exclusion of the environmental protection minister from the housing cabinet raised concerns from green groups.

“It is unacceptable that in a panel with such great influence on all the Israeli public, the environmental protection minister will not be a member,” a statement from the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel said.

Ahead of the decision on the housing cabinet composition, SPNI CEO Moshe “Kosha” Pakman appealed to Kahlon on Monday, expressing his “amazement” that the environment minister would be axed from the cabinet, despite serving in this body during the previous government.

“How can it be that a committee that will discuss and decide upon projects of environmental significance does not include the Environmental Protection Ministry?” Pakman wrote to Kahlon.

“It was expected that the Environmental Protection Ministry would be among the leaders of the cabinet, in order to maintain balanced development and interests of the environment, health and lives of Israel’s residents,” he said. “We are all troubled about the housing shortage, but all development requires a balanced perspective, taking into account all the interests of the residents of Israel.”