Critical Currents: A year of renovations

The national house needs a complete overhaul - the garden, too.

September 21, 2006 12:33
4 minute read.


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Throughout the country Israelis are wishing each other a better New Year than the one that is ending today. The 12 months of 5766 have been exceptionally disquieting. Political turmoil and social unrest have been accompanied by rising insecurity. Ineptitude has permeated every corner of Israeli life. The sense of alienation in the aftermath of the second Lebanon war is widespread. It is not enough, however, to pray for a marked improvement; the challenge is to make it happen in the course of the coming year. Some exceedingly disgruntled Israelis believe that the national house is so unstable that it needs to be rebuilt from scratch. The basic structure, however, is essentially sound. Tampering with it would be ultimately self-destructive. Others insist that a good plaster and paint job can cover up the blemishes and restore the natural glow. They ignore the decay eating away at the core. What the Israeli edifice urgently needs now is a complete overhaul. The incoming year should be devoted to purposeful collective home renovations. THE FIRST task involves securing the by now shaky foundations of the state. The fundamental values of equality, tolerance, pluralism and human dignity enunciated in the Declaration of Independence need to be uncovered and rehabilitated. So does the vision of Israel as a just state drawing its inspiration from its Jewish heritage and committed to universal humanitarian norms. Then, as in any comprehensive remodeling, the inner workings of the building must be examined and, where necessary, fixed. The system of government - Israel's plumbing, drainage and electricity - requires a closer look. Ostensibly a parliamentary democracy, Israel has encountered severe problems of instability, inefficiency, and inequality in recent years. Its short-lived experiment with a semi-presidential form of government compounded these difficulties. A further drift in this direction will be nothing short of disastrous - it may yet result in the total collapse of the country's democratic order. WHAT IS desperately needed is a comprehensive reform of the current system. Such a restoration would include both the strengthening of parliamentary oversight and legislative functions, and also the simultaneous reinforcement of executive capabilities to insure a larger measure of governance. The lack of accountability of elected officials to their voters can be corrected through changes in the electoral laws that, while maintaining the principle of proportionality, would incorporate a personal dimension. This job of governmental reform - along the lines suggested by the Presidential Committee due to issue its final report within the next month - is hard, messy, and absolutely vital. If it is not undertaken at this juncture, the house will become uninhabitable. Once the foundations and the installation have been completed, it will be possible to deal with the insulation. The War Inquiry Commission established this week will undoubtedly review the conceptual, strategic, tactical and logistical dimensions of the Lebanese imbroglio and suggest long overdue modifications. These will probably involve not only changes in personnel and in civil-military relations, but also more sweeping adjustments in defensive perceptions. Clearly, the house must be hermetically sealed if it is to weather future storms. AT THIS point, attention can shift to reviewing the placement of walls and refurbishing the floors. The divisions within Israeli society - between Arabs and Jews, rich and poor, Mizrahim and Ashkenazim, Orthodox and secular, men and women - have become utterly intolerable. They were magnified even further during the course of the past summer, when the most disadvantaged in the north and the south were left to suffer unduly by their more privileged cohorts. The model of spacious rooms for the select few alongside cramped and steamy quarters for large portions of the population can no longer be sustained. The building must be redesigned to accommodate all its residents in a reasonable degree of comfort. The garden, too, needs massive tending. To do so, the plot of the house that is Israel must be demarcated, its boundaries accepted by the adjoining neighbors, and its fences mended accordingly. The coming year can be one of political accommodation. Israel must display the courage to respond positively to the overtures now being made by the Arab League and the Palestinian Authority. Only if as much effort is put into rectifying relations with its regional partners and concluding agreements first with the Palestinians and then with Syria and Lebanon as is devoted to internal reconstruction can the long-term safety of the edifice be insured. Finally, the finishing touches can be applied: the paint, the pictures, the lighting fixtures. Vastly improved education, greater economic opportunities, advanced transportation facilities, a cleaner environment and a better quality of life: all these and more can be put in place once the construction is done, the faults rectified, and the rubble removed. The revamped house, resting on compact and secure ground, will then be both attractive and inviting. House renovations are trying, painful and discombobulating. The time comes when they must nevertheless be undertaken to avoid further deterioration and eventual collapse. Israelis must gear up to tackle this chore in 5767, and they can only benefit from the result - because a remodeled, functioning, and well-appointed house is a true joy.

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