Gaza border reconstruction proposal wins backing from coalition, opposition MKs

Private legislation meant to spur southern comeback with large grants for returnees, tax discounts and creation of new community, as MKs wait for government to fund its own plan

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

An IDF serviceman stands outside a destroyed home in the Gaza border community of Kfar Aza on December 20, 2023. (Sam Sokol)
An IDF serviceman stands outside a destroyed home in the Gaza border community of Kfar Aza on December 20, 2023. (Sam Sokol)

Nearly 60 lawmakers from both the coalition and opposition have come out in support of a new bill intended to pave the way for the rehabilitation of southern communities near the Gaza border.

The legislation is a private initiative being pushed by lawmakers as they wait for a promised government-backed bill to fund reconstruction efforts in the wake of Hamas’s brutal attack on October 7 — and is meant to supplement rather than replace the government’s own previously announced plan.

The measure calls for the founding of a new community in the area, the construction of an October 7 memorial at a yet-to-be determined site, and sets forth a number of grants and tax breaks intended to encourage resettlement of the southern area and the development of tourism, agriculture and industry.

“The purpose of the law is to rehabilitate, renew and develop the settlements” on an accelerated schedule through the provision of “grants and benefits to the residents of the localities and encouraging construction, industry and agriculture in these localities,” Finance Committee chair MK Moshe Gafni said in a statement unveiling the draft legislation on Wednesday.

The bill is supported by 56 lawmakers, including Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman and coalition whip Ofir Katz (Likud).

Last month, the Finance Committee approved NIS 1.15 billion ($308 million) to create the recently announced Tekuma (Revival) Administration, headed by Brig. Gen. (Res) Moshe Edry, which has been tasked with rebuilding Gaza border communities.

The government subsequently approved an outline for what it called a “strategic multi-year plan to rehabilitate and develop” the region under which up to NIS 18 billion ($4.9 billion) would be invested in Sderot and communities within the Eshkol, Hof Ashkelon, Sdot Negev and Sha’ar HaNegev regional councils over the next half a decade.

However, the government has yet to allocate the remaining funding for the initiative, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s promise to pass a law he says will provide “a lot of money for this reconstruction as quickly as possible” has yet to become reality.

Moshe Edri, the head of the Tekuma Authority, wearing a white shirt, attends a signing ceremony at the authority’s offices in the Sorek Region on December 24, 2023. (Courtesy of Tekuma Authority)

“We are pushing these issues because we are still waiting for the government’s bill,” opposition MK Pnina Tamano-Shata (National Unity), one of the measure’s backers, told The Times of Israel, explaining that the move could help to advance aid to the regions affected by the attack more quickly.

“We have a coalition of the opposition and [government] coalition for this bill. If the government delays, the Knesset can act independently. We need to make sure that the residents return but that there are also new residents,” she said.

Some 125,000 people from kibbutzim, moshavim, towns and villages near Gaza and Lebanon were evacuated following the outbreak of war between Hamas and Israel.

Under the proposed legislation, returning residents would be eligible to receive up to one million shekels ($275,000), depending on how close to the Gaza border they live, while new residents moving in following the war would be eligible for up to NIS 500,000 ($137,000). It proposes a 50 percent discount on the municipal arnona property tax, a temporary corporate tax rate of 6% and preferential treatment for local businesses when bidding for tenders.

The bill also calls for the establishment of a new settlement of at least 1,000 housing units named “Ofir” — presumably after Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council Ofir Libstein, who was killed during fighting with Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Kfar Aza on October 7.

“We need to support the communities and in the Knesset we are putting together the framework for the government to allocate funds, especially incentives for people who want to invest in the region and tax breaks for residents moving back,” said Likud MK Danny Danon, a supporter of the legislation.

“Government efforts require legislation. Maybe there will be a government bill and we will combine the legislation but the government is dealing with so many issues right now. I think it’s legitimate that some ideas come from the Knesset and are then picked up by the government,” he said.

Some 1,200 people were killed, mostly civilians, by the Hamas terror group on October 7 when it led a devastating onslaught in which some 240 people were kidnapped to Gaza. Israel responded by launching a military campaign in the Gaza Strip to destroy Hamas and release the hostages.

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