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2/25/15 Housing Report -Election Update

by Marc Schulman

With three weeks to go before the elections, two main subjects dominate today’s news in Israel. The major news focused on a report by the government ombudsman on the government failure to address the country’s housing crisis. The second news item highlighted the increasing criticism leveled by the U.S. administration at Prime Minister Netanyahu’s upcoming speech to U.S. Congress.

The much anticipated report on the housing situation was officially released this evening. It detailed the failure of each of the Israeli governments over the course of the last 9 years to halt the rapidly rising price of apartments and homes in Israel. Apartment prices have increased in price move than 90% during the past six years – not only in the big cities, but rather across the country as a whole. The underlying problem is that Israel’s population has been growing at a rate of 2.2% a year. Such growth requires 50,000+ new apartments to be built each year. In reality only 30,000+ new apartments have been created annually over the last decade (creating a cumulative deficit of over 120,000 apartments.) To understand the government’s role in the crisis it should be noted that the government owns most of the land available for building in Israel, and therefore, controls the rate and price at which that this land is sold. The government corporation responsible for selling land tries to maximize its potential income.

Over the past six years, the government has repeatedly announced that it was taking actions to bring down the price of apartments. The housing report states unequivocally that the governments of Israel have all failed to implement any effective action to stop the rising of the price of apartments throughout the country. To give some perspective, at present, it takes the average Israeli family between 180 and 200 months (i.e. 15-16.5 years) of wages to buy an apartment. In the United States that number is close to 50 months (slightly over 4 years). The report was careful not to blame any one politician for failing to address the problem. Instead, the report contended that all of the government is to blame. As all of the commentators were quick to make clear tonight, it is impossible for Netanyahu to avoid the fact that he has been Prime Minister these past six years, and its seems clear that he will pay some sort of electoral price for this distinct failure.

This evening the media has been carrying the remarks made by President Obama’s National Security Advisor last night on Charlie Rose when referring to Netanyahu’s speech next week on the Capital. “It is not only unfortunate, but it is also destructive of the fabric of the relationship. It has always been bi-partisan and we want to keep it that way. When it becomes injected with politics that's a problem. We want the relationship to be strong regardless of which party may be in charge in each country.” Tonight in U.S. Secretary of State Kerry’s testimony to Congress, he stated that Netanyahu had been wrong about Iraq, wrong about the interim agreement with Iran, and he might be wrong about the agreement that might be reached with Iran in the next few weeks. There was also surprise tonight in Israel on reports that the Prime Minister has refused to meet with Congressional Democrats after he was extended an invitation by them to so.

Finally, the recent reports of scandal in the running of the Netanyahu household seem to be having a cumulative effect on the electorate. Current polls show the Likud party trailing the Zionist Camp (formerly the Labor Party, combined with the HaTnua Party) by two seats. There are also reports that internal polling by the parties indicate that the Likud is even weaker than the latest polls indicate. Today’s polls suggest that at least 30% of the population has still not made up their minds regarding who will receive their votes. Israeli elections have traditionally been decided in the last week of the campaign – when the undecided finally make their final choices. With three weeks left before election day it is impossible to predict the outcome of this upcoming election.

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