A View From Israel: Is there a bright future
The Negev can provide some of the answers for the nation’s problems
Small Maktesh Photo: Joe Yudin
“Who imagined that a people that had been scattered and dispersed for over two
thousand years would reassemble in its ancient homeland under foreign occupation
and in it renew its sovereign independence?” – David Ben-Gurion
elections behind us and the whirlwind of c o a l i t i o n - b u i l d i n g
ahead, the entire country is watching and waiting to see what will happen next.
That’s it. The public had its say and what comes next is no longer in our hands,
but rather in the hands of politicians as they indulge in petty politics and
backroom bickering over who will need to renege on their commitments to the very
public that voted them into power.
How strange. How
Yet, there is hope. The new Knesset has 50 new MKs and
fresh blood means fresh ideas. Each new MK, with his or her varied background
and experience, will want to change the country. Each MK will sit in his or her
assigned Knesset seat with hope for the future and an eye on the multitudes of
bills he or she will pass, transforming the country.
But in reality, such
drastic change cannot and will not arrive on our doorstep. Starry-eyed MKs will
quickly learn the ropes of Israel’s dirty parliamentary playground. Drastic
change may elude us yet.
Our beloved country, for which we have fought
tooth and nail – literally – has special defense needs like no other country, so
our defense budget must remain high. We have monopolies, such as the Israel
Electric Corporation, and bodies such as the Israel Lands Authority that milk
the public with unreasonably high prices. Gasoline, heating oil and food are
The list goes on, but the public has reached its breaking
point. The recent election has, with little room for doubt, proven that people
want change from within. People want to see a country that is changing for the
better and providing its citizens with their needs. Why should one out of every
four senior citizens have to live in poverty? Why should young couples be unable
to afford a home? Why should there be inequality when it comes to serving the
country? Why should dock workers on the Mediterranean coast have the ability to
put the nation in a chokehold every time they strike, while earning more than
three times the average wage? These are the questions the public voted to
resolve and these are some of the changes the public wants to see in
And there is still a glimmer of hope.
There really is
room for change and improvement. The new governmentmay just be able to bring
about change in the electoral system, raising the threshold above the current 2
percent. And yes, it may just be possible to resolve, to some extent, the
housing crisis and draft many haredim into the army.
BUT THE cost of
living is still high and hundreds of thousands of citizens will still struggle
to make ends meet.
Along with the three main goals the parties have set
out to achieve, in addition to dealing with security threats on Israel’s
northern, eastern and southern fronts, progress must also be made on easing the
financial burden. The ports, the Israel Electric Company and the Israel Lands
Authority must be privatized, allowing for competition and reduced prices. The
public wants to see a parallel of the drastic cell phone price reduction in
other sectors as well.
The government must help reduce the cost of
living, generate jobs and create affordable housing with access to the country’s
All it needs is a place to do this.
And that place can be
found in the South.
This is an idea that has been bandied about for
years. David BenGurion devoted an entire chapter to the South – “Southwards!” –
in his book Israel: Years of Challenge.
He wrote, “military strength
depends... first and foremost on the way we meet our challenges at
After the Sinai campaign, more than ever before, we needed to
concentrate a growing proportion of our efforts and resources on the still
barren southern half of the country. In the South and the Negev stood the cradle
of our people; they are Israel’s weak points and danger zones; they are also her
With improved transportation – better roads, more bus
routes and high-speed trains – the South could blossom, becoming home to
hundreds of thousands of citizens, if not more, while becoming as accessible to
Tel Aviv as Modi’in. We can build the proposed railway from Eilat to Ashdod,
connecting the Red Sea to the Mediterranean by rail, creating a highly lucrative
commercial connection between East and West.
Ben-Gurion wrote, “From the
standpoint of world transport, the Negev resembles the Suez Canal; it serves as
a bridge between the world’s two shipping regions: the Mediterranean route to
the Atlantic Ocean, and the Red Sea route to the Indian and Pacific Oceans... It
is absolutely vital for the State of Israel, for both economic and security
reasons, to move southward...”
And if the South shows promise, people
will move there. Army bases and factories can be moved from the Center to the
South, creating more growth and opportunity. Business incentives will attract
companies and cheaper, affordable housing will attract young couples. Put this
all together and you’ve got a growing population and a job market.
the next government, its makeup yet unknown, appears to be focused on three
issues – lowering the cost of housing, equalizing the military burden and
electoral reform – it is likely that progress on any of these issues will take
time. It would be naïve to believe that change will rush in with the new
government. But if, after 2,000 years, we’ve come this far and returned from
around the globe to the land of our yearning, clearly we can continue to make
progress and develop the country to suit the needs of the public.