Minister of Housing Uri Ariel calls to mind the absentminded detective Columbo who pretends to be a fool to mislead suspects. But make no mistake – regardless if his unkempt appearance, Ariel is no dupe.
When appointed last week as Minister of Construction and Housing, Ariel claimed he had to “study the material”. How amusing – there’s nothing any of his staff can teach him; albeit lacking a formal education, he is a bona fide professor of applied politics in Israeli real estate. After all, he learned from the best – Ariel Sharon was his mentor.
So it is safe to assume that his first public speech in office, at the Calcalist Real Estate 2013 conference, was no slip of tongue by a political newbie who just rode in from the hills of Judea and Samaria to take his seat on the government.
Thus was his creed: “Not everyone may choose to live between Hadera and Gedera. Those with means can purchase a house wherever they choose, but those without cannot live in central Israel and raise a hue and a cry about not having any money.” The choice of words leaves no room for doubt. This is the minister’s creed; his declaration of intent for the upcoming years. All we have is the right to bellyache.
Ariel dedicated his life to the hills, far away from the Hadera-Gedera coastline. He was among the first settlers in the Khan al-Hamra area, where he lived alone for a few months before it became Kfar Adumim. Among the positions he filled were chair of the Amana settlement movement, secretary general of the Yesha council and the first head of the Beit El council.
When Arik Sharon stabbed his cronies in the back with the disengagement plan, Ariel moved temporarily to Kfar Darom to fight against the PM’s scheme. If one were to tell Ariel he was a paragon settler, a pride and joy to the tribe, he would take it as a compliment.
What are the chances he truly comes to understand the world of Israelis who live between Hadera and Gedera? Is there any chance whatsoever he sees as legitimate the desire of young couples to purchase a house where they grew up? It seems he made his opinion quite clear – he suggests they stop with the bellyaching. In Ariel’s greater Israel there’s plenty of room for all, so why cram into a small strip of coast?
Ariel’s appointment is the comeback of pre-protest politics. It is the effacement of the protests that raged in the streets of 2012. Stav Shaffir and Itzik Shmuli are now members of Knesset, but from their vantage point in the seats of coalition, all they can do is watch in frustration how Ariel is promoting his own agenda.
Ariel Atias was Construction and Housing Minister of the haredim and Uri Ariel was hardly chosen to find solutions for Shaffir and Shmuli’s friends – he favors the hilltop youth over the youth of Rothschild Boulevard.
Two years ago, at the 2011 Calcalist Real Estate Conference, which was held only a couple of months before the outbreak of the social protest, I tried to address the plight of those residing between Hadera and Gedera.
Already then, some populist politicians were telling youngsters from the center of Israel to go live in the peripheries, claiming that if they insist on staying in the center , they’re nothing more the “spoiled”. That argument was senseless then as it is now.
Dreaming to buy a house in the place you grew up has nothing to do with being spoiled. Neither is wanting to live at a reasonable distance from your workplace. Especially not when the peripheries offer little in the way of employment and promises to develop road and railway infrastructure remain on the drawing board for years.
Granted, there are several good roads connecting settlements to the center but not everyone wants to live beyond the Green Line, to the minister’s chagrin. By the way, the settles often claim they need to expand in order to build houses for the next generation. No doubt, Ariel can sympathize with that claim.
The wanton housing market prices in highly demanded areas has rendered this “grandiose” notion of young couples living not far from their parents and their jobs an impossible mission. It was true in 2011 and is even more so in 2013.
In the former administration, the middle class had neither minister nor party to represent it. The social protest infused the Knesset with a new energy that assured the floundering middle class it would look after its interests. Some of them made it into the new government.
Unfortunately, the ministry, which is charged with solving the middle class’s harshest plight, i.e. housing, has appointed an indifferent minister whose insight was bred in the settlements on the hills and not in the cities of the coast.
If Uri Ariel wants to be a “Construction and Housing Minister to all Israel,” as he promised in his inaugurations, it behooves him to dedicate time to visit the places he hasn’t frequented much, such as Rishon Lezion, Herzliya, Ramat Aviv.
Between Hadera and Gedera live millions of Israelis – far more than the number of settlers in the hills. Perhaps it’s time the minister from Kfar Adumim, with all due respect to the hills, got to know this large and rather odd tribe of people who prefer to live here, and want their children to as well.