Emergency Powers Given Sharon Go Too Far, Israeli Court Rules

Israel’s highest court dealt a serious blow Tuesday to Housing Minister Ariel Sharon’s crash program to build emergency housing to meet the surge in demand created by the crush of immigrants arriving in this country.

The High Court of Justice nullified the emergency powers the Cabinet had granted Sharon on July 1, after the outspoken Likud minister insisted it was mandatory to cut through the red tape to quickly alleviate one of Israel’s worst housing crises ever.

The court upheld a petition filed by Knesset member Avraham Poraz of the center-left Shinui party, who argued that the government could cope with the housing crisis via existing laws.

Sharon had intended to import 3,000 prefabricated homes and prepare for 8,000 more units, and was scouting areas throughout the country in which to erect them. He also had plans to house immigrants in hotels and youth hostels.

The court gave Sharon 21 days to explain why the emergency regulations should not be nullified.

Poraz claimed there was no need for “undemocratic” measures, such as emergency regulations, to alleviate the crisis, which is forcing many young Israeli couples out of their homes as rents skyrocket to meet the rising demand.

As a case in point, he noted that in a quick legislative maneuver last week, the Knesset had passed a law designed to expedite the construction process.

SOME MINISTERS WELCOME RULING

The High Court ruled that the government could not bypass existing laws with emergency regulations, saying existing legislation could provide the necessary answers to the problems.

“There is no doubt that the absorption of aliyah is an essential act that requires unconventional means,” ruled Justice Shlomo Levin.

But the court found that the emergency powers were too far-reaching and had the potential of causing irreversible damage in such areas as laws on zoning and land use.

“As a matter of principle, the emergency regulations should be used only when one cannot wait for the legislation process in the Knesset,” Levin ruled.

The first party to welcome the court’s ruling was Interior Minister Arye Deri of the Shas party, who had tried in vain to prevent the enactment of the emergency regulations. He expressed hope that hereafter he could work jointly with Sharon to expedite the construction of much-needed housing.

Deri said the major problem now is not the red tape but the absence of a master plan and the slow pace of building contracts. He committed himself to speed up approval of any building plans that are brought before the authorities.

Tourism Minister Gideon Patt of Likud also seemed relieved. He had feared Sharon’s plan to house immigrants in hotels and youth hostels would gravely impact the tourism industry.

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