Where are Netanyahu's priorities?

Preserving the country's heritage is a worthy task, but if it is the most important to the PM, we have a serious problem.

By BY JEFF BARAK
February 8, 2010 11:04
4 minute read.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu

Bibi smiling and pointing 311 ap. (photo credit: Associated Press)

 
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It wasn’t Binyamin Netanyahu’s failure to slap down Avigdor Lieberman last week after the foreign minister’s irresponsible rant against the Assad family that once again highlighted the hollowness of his premiership; rather, it was his keynote address to the Herzliya Conference in which he extolled the virtue of archeological parks.

Over the years, rightly or wrongly, the Herzliya Conference (as opposed to the Knesset plenum) has become the preferred venue of choice for prime ministers to lay out their vision for the country, most prominently when Ariel Sharon announced his decision to disengage from the Gaza Strip at the 2004 conference. As such, there is always an atmosphere of expectancy when the prime minister gets up to deliver his speech.

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Not anymore. Netanyahu’s remarks at Herzliya were so bland it seemed he was deliberately ensuring he would not be invited back next year to address the audience. His main policy pronouncement centered on a government work plan that will reverse the neglect of the country’s heritage sites and the establishment of two more walking trails to complement the existing Israel Trail.

Now preserving the country’s heritage, such as the crumbling house on the shore near Atlit where, in the example Netanyahu gave, Aaron Aaronsohn and the Nili underground signaled the British during World War I when the Turks still ruled Palestine, is a worthy task, but if this is the issue uppermost in the prime minister’s mind, we have a serious problem.



IN CASE it has escaped Netanyahu’s notice, peace with the Palestinians in non-existent, the Iranian regime is still refusing to halt its nuclear program, the Syrians are threatening to destroy our cities, Hizbullah has successfully rearmed in South Lebanon, the country’s strategic ties with moderate Muslim states such as Jordan and Turkey are at their lowest ebb since the early 1990s and our international image has hit a new low following the government’s refusal to address the Goldstone Report’s accusations.

At home, the situation is not much better. As the recent OECD report noted, our economy has shown resilience during the global recession, but more active education and employment policies – particularly targeted at Arabs and haredim – are needed to bolster the country’s economic performance and bridge the deep divisions facing society.



One in five Israelis lives in poverty, a much higher ratio than in any OECD country. Crucially, poverty is highest among the youngest and fastest growing population groups in the country: Just over half of Arab Israelis and 60 percent of haredim live below the poverty line, compared with just over 10% of the rest of the population. And the rapid population growth of these two communities means that Arab Israelis and haredim now account for more than 45% of children currently starting primary school.

While Netanyahu is looking back at the past as a way to educate our children “about the values connected to our identity and heritage,” almost half of first-grade pupils belong to communities that ideologically reject this identity and heritage. It will take more than an “Israel Experience” walking trail or a restored film archive to connect these groups to the Zionist ethos the prime minister wants to promote.



NETANYAHU HAS been prime minister for almost a year and has nothing to show for it. His single accomplishment was the adoption of a two-year budget, thus saving the country from one round of political extortion from the government’s smaller parties, but that was more due to the timing of the election that brought him to power than any policy decision on his part.

His decision to create the largest government in the country’s history, with dozens of ministers and deputy ministers responsible for nothing, was meant to ensure his comfortable political survival, but in the end it will be the cause of his downfall as boredom will eventually lead to plotting. Idle hands also make for irresponsible ministerial statements, as we saw in the case of Yossi Peled, who started off the latest round of saber rattling with Syria, when he predicted recently, apropos of nothing, that a military conflict in the North “was inevitable.”

It was unfortunate that the Syrians then misinterpreted Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s remarks to the IDF top brass that stalled peace talks with Damascus would lead to another round of fighting and then we’ll return to “negotiate on the exact same issues we have been discussing with them for the past 15 years” as a threat, rather than an internal statement emphasizing the importance of negotiations. Barak knows what he’s talking about. With negotiations with the Palestinians stuck due to both Netanyahu’s failure to truly convince that he is sincere in his desire to reach a final-status deal, and the Palestinian leadership’s refusal to make the concessions needed if a deal is ever going to be struck, the best hope to prevent another round of fighting breaking out in the region is for Jerusalem to seek an agreement with Damascus.

Unfortunately, it seems that our prime minister is too busy seeking out ruins to repair than pursuing ways to bring the Syrians to the negotiating table.


The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.

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