Savir's Corner: A new deal for Israel?

We need a deal that will lead to a fair Israel, to a better economy, to a just society, to new politics, to peace and to respect of fundamental human values.

Tel Aviv housing tent protesters 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Tel Aviv housing tent protesters 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel’s Declaration of Independence emanated from Rothschild Boulevard.
Will a new, though less dramatic, covenant emanate from the same venue? It is probably too early to say, but what can be said is that such a covenant, a new arrangement for the relationship between the citizen, the society and the political leadership is indeed necessary – a new deal.
Israel is at a crossroads between a quasi-anarchic situation, with the politics and politicians of the past seemingly losing control, and a rise of a new agenda and leadership brought about by the young middle class.
The young generation, not unlike the same generation among some of our neighbors, has led a formidable and dramatic outburst to the streets and squares of Israel. It is doing so in ever-growing numbers and locations, as we witnessed on Saturday night.
This is an outcry against being overburdened by taxes, in money as well as in civil duties, yet not being rewarded in return.
At the same time, the political leadership rewards its political allies (mainly the modern Orthodox and haredi parties) and feeds its political ideology: Funds are constantly poured into settlements.
A house in Ariel costs approximately 40 percent of what the same house in Netanya would cost. On top of that, almost NIS 100,000 of mortgage benefit goes to the house owner in Ariel, Karnei Shomron, etc. And 15.36% of the investment in public housing goes to the settlers, who constitute about 3% of our population.
Furthermore, settlements are defined as “priority A” areas, in order to facilitate their economic development, which cannot be said for many development townships (“ayarot pituah”).
As a result of these and other misguided policies, Israel is today one of the “developed world’s” most unjust societies, in terms of the gap between the have and have not’s.
We are almost last among OECD countries when it comes to social equity. The young generation, be it from Tel Aviv, Kiryat Shmona or Beersheba, the middle class of Israel and the backbone of our society, is demonstrating against unbearable burdens – high housing prices, education costs and basic good prices, low wages, and more.
Indeed, it hurts to see young students paying the high costs of their education, going to reserve service, working extra hours for low wages and helping their elderly parents to cover their high health-care costs.
What we must understand is that these are the symptoms of wrong policies and a disturbed system. The rebellion of the young communicating on social networks and nearly monopolizing the media agenda, will probably only grow. Ninety percent of Israelis are identifying with them.
Yet challenging the government will not be enough.
It may lead to band-aid remedies by Netanyahu, Steinitz & co., as we witnessed in the case of the housing issue.
There is a parallel challenge for the young generation and the civil society of Israel, no less important – suggesting a fundamental reform of policies, systems and values. This will take weeks if not months of deliberations, probably with the participation of the Histadrut labor federation.
I would like to propose here elements and contours of what should constitute a “new deal” for the country.
Israel cannot remain an isolated island in the world, delegitimized by great parts of it, and undergoing an internal social earthquake.
Yes, we must uphold our unique Jewish and Israeli character and culture.
But at the same time we have to understand that we have to be part of a globalized world, in our values, policies and economic realities.
First and foremost, we have to strengthen our adherence to Western democratic values, with full equality, rights and freedom to all citizens. We are in need of a political system with fair representation, in which all strata of the population are justly represented, and favoritism to certain sectors and strata of the populations is abolished.
Fair taxation for fair representation alongside a political system that is governable, with regional representation through an electoral reform.
Israel must find the balance between how it taxes its citizens and how it rewards them; a just balance between all sectors of the population, including minorities. We can take some example from the Scandinavian welfare state, and we must strive to become again a social democracy, with a free-market economy; a differential tax system; an end to monopolies; fair wages also for the liberal professions; fair treatment of minorities; and a high level of affordable education for all, from kindergarten to university. Simultaneously, greater government intervention is warranted, with fair regulation and a “social safety net” in all areas of social welfare and health.
We must be part of the globalized world, by exporting our distinct cultural expressions and our economic achievements in the hi-tech field, but no less so by upholding universal humanitarian values, which have been endangered by the occupation.
Above all we must become again a peace seeking country. Today there is a new partner in the Arab world, the young generation of the “Tahrir” or “Ramallah” squares. They as well, look to reform their life, and create a better social-economic reality; and they, like us, must understand and probably do understand, that there is no social-political reform or economic progress without peace. It is not a matter of Left or Right. It is simply right. In this we must be fully coordinated with our American allies, as we engage in an active peace process.
All these are necessary components of a new puzzle, a new agenda for Israel, our new deal. A deal that respects the current rebellion of the young middle class, and is formed in consultation with it. A deal that will lead to a fair Israel, to a better economy, to a just society, to new politics, to peace and to respect of fundamental human values.
Uri Savir is president of the Peres Center for Peace, and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.