311_steinitz is feeling cross.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
President Shimon Peres lit Hanukka candles and gave the opening address on
Tuesday at the annual Local Authorities Conference, held at the Lauder School of
Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center in
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This year’s conference, under the slogan “Towards the Cities of
Tomorrow,” takes place over two days and features a long list of political
leaders on the local and national levels, including 150 mayors and assistant
The conference is being held against the backdrop of the Carmel
forest fire and the pursuant accusations directed at different branches of the
government for the country’s lack of preparedness.
“We have seen that a
single nargila [hookah] can start a horrible forest fire. Missiles can do the
same. They, too, can burn fields. The difference between a scorched Middle East
and a green Middle East is peace,” said Peres.
Peres spoke about the
bravery and self sacrifice of the firefighters and rescue workers, and the
generosity of ordinary citizens who opened their homes to the
“The fire caused us great damage, but also shed light on a
people the likes of which I have never seen,” he said.
The president also
praised the mayors and local authority heads for taking control and providing
leadership in a time of crisis, and encouraged them to show the same degree of
initiative when facing their daily challenges.
“I am in favor of every
mayor and local authority head stepping forward and promoting new ventures in
their cities. Cities and villages cannot survive only on municipal taxes; they
have to promote hi-tech industries, which will generate income and provide
jobs,” said Peres.
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz opened his remarks by
addressing his ministry’s efforts to rehabilitate the villages in the Carmel
that were severely damaged by the fire.
“By Thursday we will have an
estimate of the full costs, and we will provide the funds to the local
authorities who suffered damages,” said Steinitz. “It will take time – not a day
and not a week, but we will make sure that the villages will be rehabilitated in
a quick and efficient manner.
We will not allow an Israeli town to fall
because of a natural disaster.”
He added that on Wednesday, “the state
comptroller’s report of fire services will come out, and I think it will be a
severe report. We in the Finance Ministry are convinced that what’s needed is a
comprehensive reform in the fire services. I am convinced that after the report
comes out, the reform will take place quickly.”
Steinitz also praised the
local authority heads for their swift and efficient handling of the crisis and
“The mayors have learned the lessons of the Second
Lebanon War and handled the evacuation in an admirable way. We promised the
local authority heads that we would compensate them for all the expenses that
were involved in the evacuation, and there were no delays because of financial
considerations,” said Steinitz.
“Each one of you is also a finance
minister of his own local authority. We understand your needs, but I’m sure you
also understand my position and the realities that there is never sufficient
money for everything,” said Steinitz. “That’s why I am happy to say today that
we are transferring NIS 90 million to the local authorities’ budget so that it
will reach NIS 2.2 billion and a 25 percent increase in development
Union of Local Authorities chairman Shlomo Buhbut said that only
a reform in the national power structure would bring about change in the daily
realities of the local authorities. He spoke about challenges that the
authorities faced, with shrinking budgets and increasing responsibilities, and
said that the biggest problem Israel faced was not from external threats or
geopolitical realities, but lack of internal policies.
reforms, Israel’s local authorities will crumble. Disasters happen, not because
there is no peace, or because the stock market rises or falls. Disasters happen
because there is a governance deficit,” said Buhbut.
Buhbut complained of
a lack of respect for local authority heads and lack of cooperation with
“We are the only ones who are directly elected by the
public, but we are forced to wait before being allowed to meet a minister. The
national government should reach out to us, not the other way around,” he
Despite assurances on the part of conference attendees not to
interrupt him during his address, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who was supposed
to take part in the conference, failed to arrive.