May 12: Budget Pains

Finance Minister Yair Lapid could offer us a few sweeteners to help the medicine go down.

Letters 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Handout )
Letters 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Handout )
Budget pains
Sir, – With regard to “Lapid concedes draft budget a blow to middle class” (May 9), the budget cuts are going to be tough to swallow, but Finance Minister Yair Lapid could offer us a few sweeteners to help the medicine go down.
The biggest problem with the Israeli economy is the cost to all of us of the monopolies that steal our money. One of the worst is the banking system. It is overseen by the Ministry of Finance, meaning Lapid can do something about it.
The banks are notorious for charging arcane fees for services that banks in other countries offer for free, and offering derisive rates on money they hold for us. We are helpless because there is no competition.
This could be changed by establishing some simple competitive rules.
1. Make it easy to switch banks by making them offer hassle-free procedures and eliminate the charge for closing an account.
2. Make them advertise their charges and limit fee changes to once a year, with each bank being assigned a different date. This would force them to be competitive or lose business.
3. Make all charges understandable, explaining them in a language that even a politician can understand.
The banking system is not the only monopoly that needs to be eliminated and might not even be the worst, but fixing it would be a good start.
STEPHEN COHEN Ma’aleh Adumim
Sir, – Kol hakavod to Finance Minister Yair Lapid for increasing taxes on cigarettes and other items. Yet the government has not gone far enough. I think my plan could add enough revenue for taxes to stay down.
1. Triple the taxes on tobacco.
2. Triple the taxes on hard liquor, including arak, vodka, etc.
3. Triple the taxes on restaurants where an average meal costs over NIS 500.
4. Catch drivers who speed at over 150 kilometers per hour, change lanes without signaling, drive within a meter of the car in front or text and talk on hand-held phones, and give then huge fines.
5. Double the taxes on junk food, which is mostly sugar and fat. (Sure, kids love it, but let it be an occasional treat, not part of their daily diet.) Not only will we make some money, but – far more important – we might save lives and keep people healthier and more productive.
Sir, – Shelly Yacimovich is absolutely right in blasting the budget proposal of Finance Minister Yair Lapid (“Draft budget proposes 1.5 % tax increase,” May 8).
As the leader of the opposition, that is her job.
On the other hand, what is a finance minister to do when the situation in our nation is so precarious? He’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. So let’s not get all excited – the finance minister has proposed a budget and many people oppose the idea.
What else is new? Let’s stop the shouting and see what we can do to make it somewhat presentable and move on!
China’s plan
Sir, – China’s Mideast peace proposal (“The new Chinese fourpoint plan,” Analysis, May 8) is neither “new” nor “Chinese.” It merely reiterates tired, old and disingenuous Arab proposals that are echoed by Europe, the US and numerous world powers. It is only a method to weaken and thus destroy Israel.
Why is China jumping into the conflict? After all, what does it have to gain materially from propping up the weak Abbas dictatorship? Oil? The Saudis have not really allowed world oil policy to change for that reason.
I think China sees that any and every important government in the world has declared its support for the Palestinian cause, so China, clearly a world leader, must do so, too. But any increase in China’s influence or power from this announcement seems unlikely. I think the plan represents Beijing’s assumption that it is a nation’s rite of passage and a sign of mature leadership! Perhaps we should remind China about the gas and oil resources that Israel might, with God’s help, soon be pumping. Perhaps we will be willing to export it to China at lower rates if Beijing were to express a truly new plan that supports Israel’s stable democracy rather than birthing one more terrorist state.
Sir, – Israel should respond to China’s four-point plan by articulating a seven-point plan for reducing world tensions caused by Chinese policies, as follows: 1. Grant full freedom of the press to all Chinese media.
2. Grant full freedom and democracy to China’s more than 1.3 billion inhabitants.
3. Waive all claims to the enslaved country of Tibet.
4. Waive all claims to Taiwan and recognize its status as a sovereign state.
5. Return to Taiwan its status as the true representative of the Chinese people at the UN.
6. Drop all claims to any area of the South China Sea.
7. Grant full independence to Hong Kong.
Until China does all of this, it has no right to dictate to other sovereign states what steps they should take to solve problems with their neighbors.
Israel as outpost
Sir, – Regarding the reports that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel to “freeze building tenders for government- funded housing projects in some larger West Bank settlements” (“Livni to meet Kerry amidst rumors of a partial settlement freeze,” May 8), please, Mr. Prime Minister, do not be enticed by the sweet nothings that US President Barack Obama whispers in your ear.
Please do not impose another settlement freeze. It is not worth it. It is not worth losing the support of half the population of Israel for a big nothing. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas might very well sit down after a settlement freeze, but he will stick to his demands and we will be bereft of any credibility.
Our name – the good name of yours and the State of Israel – will be blackened because we will not agree in the end to dividing Jerusalem. So where will the freezing of settlements lead? It will lead to economic disaster because young couples need homes. It will lead to contracts being in default. It will lead to less purchasing power on behalf of the people and it will lead to no confidence in your leadership.
Let Obama understand that coming to negotiations must mean no pre-conditions. Red lines should mean red lines, and what Israel agrees to will be upheld. But let us not be stupid.
We must be strong, resolute and capable. Otherwise, we will be treated as an outpost – and you know exactly what happens when outposts are demolished.
First moves
Sir, – The thought-provoking column of Judy Montagu “Meeting and mating” (In My Own Write, May 8) hit a timely nerve in weighing up whether a woman, finding a man attractive, can make the first move.
Today, an operative word is “can.” Indeed, research into gender differences has shown that facilitation is a quality women have. However, being largely unaware of its implications, seemingly it is rarely used in the “pursuit of happiness.”
Skills workshops in this field are only too rare.
Thus, the woman reluctant to propose marriage fearing that in an argument he’d declare she was the one pushing to get married would naturally retort that he, of his own free will, agreed to marry her! A friend of mine who more than 50 years ago did suggest marriage received the relieved response, “Would you really marry me? I thought all the time you preferred my cousin.” They now have countless grandchildren.
A faint heart never won a fair man!

The writer is a psychotherapist