A View From Israel: Is there a bright future

The Negev can provide some of the answers for the nation’s problems

By ISRAEL KASNETT
January 31, 2013 13:46
Small Maktesh

Small Maktesh 390. (photo credit: 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

With the 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.

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How strange. How disappointing.

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 expensive.

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 progress.



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 center.

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 home.

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 greatest hope.”

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.

While 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.


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