The familiar reasons causing the steep rise in housing prices * The root causes of the rise in housing prices: Overpopulation and natural growth * The solution to the crisis: Widespread construction in Western Judea and Samaria close to the center of the country * The responsibility of political leaders and the settlers in delaying the pace of building in the communities * The need to repent for neglecting the mitzvah of settling the Land and contributing to the economy and society
The Housing Crisis
It is well-known that housing prices have risen considerably in recent years, mainly in the center of Israel. There are many known causes: First, severe bureaucracy that creates excessive red-tape in the process of preparing, approving, and planning land for construction – more so than usual in most developed countries. Those familiar say that ten different governmental ministries are involved in the obstacle course of planning, approval and execution of construction, not including the local authorities. Added to this was the strategic decision of the Olmert government in the summer of 2008, not to initiate construction planning in the center of the country in order to strengthen the periphery. This decision makes sense, provided that together with the freeze on construction in the center of the country comes an additional program strengthening the periphery with accelerated planning and construction, the establishment of industrial centers, the building of highways, and optimization of public transportation bringing the periphery closer to the center of the country. In actuality, construction planning in the center of the country was indeed frozen, but the periphery was not strengthened sufficiently, resulting in the construction of far fewer apartments than the market required.
Market rules are well-known: When demand outweighs supply, prices rise. Two years passed until the Netanyahu government revoked the freeze on construction plans in the center of the country, but the significant delay in the preparation of construction plans – along with the difficult bureaucracy and political disputes – created a significant shortage in housing supply, and prices continued to rise.
The Root Problem: More Overcrowding than Other Countries
This is all clear to the various analysts; however, they tend to ignore the root problem. Housing prices would have risen significantly in any event, and no proposal can fundamentally solve the continued rise in housing prices. The reason for this is that the State of Israel is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Not only that, the crowdedness in the country is increasing above and beyond the norm, because thanks to the Torah and Jewish tradition, which places the value of family on a high level, the country’s population is growing at the fastest rate of all Western countries. Additionally, by the grace of God, Jews continue immigrating to Israel, and thus the density in the center of the country increases, prices get higher, and will continue to rise.
Even vigorous government intervention, which would also cause damage to the economy by harming the free market forces, can lower prices only for a short period. Normal forces will continue to push prices up.
The Solution: Widespread Construction in Western Samaria and Judea
There is a simple solution for the situation: To build in Judea and Samaria, especially in western Samaria. These areas are close to the center of the country, and land prices are still very cheap. Land reserves in western Judea and Samaria can broaden the central area, and multiply its’ capacity of absorption by three or four times. By means of widespread (urban) construction, young couples can be offered apartments close to the center of the country at a reasonable price. The construction that took place in the Modi’in bloc, which was very effective in moderating price increases in the past, can be achieved many times over in the areas of western Judea and Samaria. This is the natural area of expansion for population centers and industries – from the west, to the east. Such expansion will also create a logical distribution of the population in the center of the country, so that rather than crowding into a long, narrow strip, which distances residents living in the peripheries from the center of the country, settlement will expand simultaneously in all directions, shortening the distance between the periphery and the center. Such expansion will also reduce the security risk currently threatening millions of Jews all at the same time.
On top of such a huge population center, continuing from Gav Ha’Har (the mountain range) in Judea and Samaria to the Lower Plain area, the periphery could be significantly strengthened – from the south, north and east.
The Fear of Presenting Such a Solution
The problem is that too many people are afraid of this simple solution. The delusions of “peace” have not yet dissipated, and there still remain foolishly pious followers who are certain that with only one more withdrawal wonderful peace will prevail in the Middle East. The President of the United States and the leaders of the Israeli left still believe this. Even those who have sobered-up from the delusions of peace hesitate to present the public the simple and necessary solution – large-scale construction in Judea and Samaria.
For the same reason of fear of confronting Arab hostility, the Negev and the Galilee are also not being developed properly, and vast State-owned lands are being abandoned to illegal construction and criminal elements.
The Fault of the Settlers
We, the settlers, are also partly to blame. In almost every community settlement obstacles are raised against widespread construction due to overly stringent reception committees – or because they want to preserve the community character and the comfort of having a private house on a half acre of land, or because they want to maintain housing prices.
If in all the communities located near employment centers in Jerusalem and the center of the country which already have approved master plans would have started extensive and urban construction five years ago, at least another twenty thousand homes could have been built. Thus, we could have absorbed another hundred thousand residents in Judea and Samaria, while continuing to work on planning the expansion of communities into urban centers alongside luxury neighborhoods of old-timers living in private homes.
The National Mission
The main responsibility lies with the leadership of the country – first and foremost, all the Prime Ministers and Defense Ministers who are the main obstacles of construction plans in Judea and Samaria. After them, responsibility continues to the rest of the Ministers who could have advanced construction plans in Judea and Samaria and removed the barriers. But the responsibility also lies with us – all voters in general, and in particular, the settlers – who already grasped this fundamental solution.
This negligence, which occasionally borders on criminality, severely harms the fulfillment of the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel). Had we been more diligent in fulfilling the mitzvah, we could have achieved removing the risk of further withdrawals from the State of Israel, and strengthened Israel’s Jewish identity by intensifying the connection to the holy places in which our forefathers, prophets, and kings lived.
Furthermore, we would have helped Israel’s economy by lowering the cost of housing and reaching out to young couples struggling so hard to buy an apartment. The housing crisis spreads to other areas – preventing couples from getting married, and raising the cost of living in general. Large-scale construction of housing in Judea and Samaria at decent prices would have freed-up money to the open market which would have been invested in education and economic development, and enabled people to accumulate significant savings for their old-age.
Construction techniques would also be perfected and improved, because the lowering of prices would create more competition, and force contractors to work harder in streamlining and accelerating the construction process, while improving quality.
I pray to God we will not be punished with severe sufferings in consequence of neglecting the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz. Perhaps if we hasten to wake up and repent, we will merit seeyata d’shmaya (help from Heaven), and accomplish in the coming years our shortcomings.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.