Central bus station Jerusalem.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
It has been difficult to be hopeful about Israel’s future over the past several years, even for someone like me who has been called an indefatigable optimist.
While recognizing the remarkable achievements in Israel, the ingenuity and creativeness within our society – in science, technology, the arts, food, the increase in tourism, and more, the general sense is that we have become a much more divided society, lacking social solidarity and with a declining vision of a shared society. The right-wing governments of the past decade have steered from the path of seeking peace with the Palestinians and defining a border in the east. We have a 50-year-long binational one-state reality, which debunks our claim of being the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people.
The Palestinian citizens of Israel have been delegitimized by our leaders and alienation between them and the state has grown along with a deepening gap between them and their Jewish neighbors. Racism in Israel is on the rise, much like the country’s big sister, the United States, and its grossly unqualified and despicable president.
Legislation presented and passed, especially during the past four years, has driven the wedge between different sectors of the society. Anyone who does not agree with the prime minister is called a “leftist,” which translated into modern Israeli Hebrew is a synonym for traitor (or post Zionist, or anti-Zionist, or Arab lover – chose what most fits you).
Jerusalem, our capital city is poorer than it was 10 years ago, more divided than ever and becoming more conflictual with ongoing government plans to remove Palestinians from their homes. Settlements in the occupied territory get a disproportionately high amount of the public budget. The periphery communities in Israel are not better off than years ago (as promised).
The public health system in Israel is dysfunctional outside of the major cities and overcrowded inside of those cities. Public transportation is in a state of disaster and with the government’s ongoing policy of financially encouraging the use of private cars, the roads are jammed. Even Waze, one of Israel’s best inventions, cannot overcome the traffic jams all over the country. Our prime minister is about to be indicted while the evidence amasses against him and he continues to deny any wrongdoing. Now he refuses to stand down even if he is indicted – something that he demanded from former prime minister Ehud Olmert but won’t apply to himself. In short, it’s a mess. Members of the prime minister’s party, famous for its democratic heritage and the mantra of “there are judges in Jerusalem,” have to declare their loyalty to the prime minister and stand by his continuous service as the leader even if indicted and even if convicted. What a sad and depressing reality.
BUT... elections are around the corner. Elections offer hope for change. Even though the initial chaos of the first phase of the election seems overwhelming and surreal, this is our best chance for a brighter future in a long time. There is much to do and it is true that there is very little to be excited about given the choices we will face on April 9, but nonetheless, a new government is a kind of new beginning and all of us should put forth our wish list for the new year and for a new government. Here are some of my wishes:
1. The new government will announce its intention to renew a peace process with the Palestinians on day one of its existence and it will mean it. While recognizing that it is also time for the Palestinians to choose their new leaders as well, and that the Palestinian people remain divided, the new government will issue its own peace initiative or declaration of principles for peace.
This declaration will recognize the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people and the intention of Israel to cease its military control over the Palestinian people. It will genuinely call on the Palestinian people to come back to the table to negotiate in good faith the future of borders, Jerusalem, refugees, mutual security, economic development, water, energy and environment. The declaration will affirm the desire to live in peace, to end the conflict and to build bridges of cooperation, which will replace walls and fences of fear and hatred.
2. The first piece of legislation of the new government will be the adoption of the “Basic Law: Equality.” This law will be a constitutional law that sets in stone the principle of equality for all citizens, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, sex or sexual preference. This law will not undermine the existence of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, but it will set the record straight that all of the citizens are totally equal under the law and are treated as such by the state. The law will also reinstate Arabic as an official language of the State of Israel.
3. Massive investment will be made in our education system, setting a core curricula for all but allowing a wide measure of independence and autonomy recognizing the plurality of our society. Within a period of five years all students should be allocated equal resources and opportunities, after correcting years of discrimination and neglect in periphery communities and especially in the Arab sector, and for the underprivileged communities all over the country.
4. The adoption of the elimination of fossil fuels here by 2030 with immediate tax benefits for investments in renewable energies for power supply and transportation.
5. Allowing the remaining Ethiopian Jews who wish to do so to immigrate to Israel to be united with their families.
6. Hamas will return the bodies of Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, and that Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed will be reunited with their families.
7. Granting refugee status to most of the asylum-seekers from Sudan and Eritrea until it is deemed safe by the international community for them to return to their homes.
8. Prioritizing public transportation, which will enable us to move around most of the time without a private car.
I know that there are a lot of other good wishes I could add to this and so could all of my readers. Israel would be so much more attractive and worthy if these wishes could be fulfilled. Happy New Year!The author is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine was published by Vanderbilt University Press.