Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Wednesday two separate tenders to build new seaports in Haifa and Ashdod as part of a general seaport reform.
"The age of seaport monopoly is over – and no strike will stop it," the prime minister declared in a joint press conference with Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz.
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Netanyahu compared the new development to the open skies deal with the European Union, signed shortly after the new cabinet was established.
The press conference (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)
"We began with 'open skies' and now are moving towards 'open seas' and it brings great tidings," Netanyahu said, adding that there has been "great interest" in the new seaport tenders, the cause of which, he claimed was "the free and responsible economic policy and the public."
Transport Minister Yisrael Katz expressed his satisfaction with the new reform, and stressed that the new ports will create competition between Haifa and Ashdod.
"Concurrently to building the ports we'll also discuss with the existing ports the necessary steps to make them efficient," Katz added.
Katz compared Israel's seaports to Israel Railways, also under his jurisdiction as transport minister, and said: "As we've seen in Israel Railways, until we make substantial changes, management can't function.
"The same goes for the seaports – not only is development being prevented, but management is impossible, and now we're changing that."
Lapid said: "The seaport reform will create thousands of jobs nationwide and in the periphery. It will change people's lives. The economic plan we passed was hard and arduous but it saved jobs. The cost of living will be reduced thanks to this reform."
'No strike will stop it'
Asked whether the State is preparing for massive strikes in response to the reform, the prime minister answered: "It's the State's right to make these changes, and also our duty.
"I was not deterred in the past from making reforms which vitalized the economy," he said and assured that "no one will stop or prevent it – no strike.
"I want to tell my friends in the Histadrut (National Labor Federation) – it's over, no more. It cannot be that 2,000 people will paralyze the State. We're bringing more traffic and we'll not stop. I say the age of seaport monopoly is over."
According to Katz, while the government will be willing to discuss the current seaports situation with the Histadrut, the construction of the two new ports is non-negotiable.
According to him, these new ports will be operated by private firms, most likely giant international conglomerates.
"Seven companies will make it to the next stage," Katz said. "Negotiations with these companies have already started. American and Chinese companies are ready to come and invest their money here."
The prime minister added: "We have an untapped advantage in our geographic location. It's an advantage used by other countries, but not by Israel, and we're determined to use it in these ports."
The cost of building the new seaports is estimated at $1.1 billion each. The new ports are the product of previous government decisions to increase competition in the field, as well as to dismantle existing monopolies in the Haifa and Ashdod ports.
In light of the new reform, the Haifa Municipality decided to establish an emergency team in order to speed up the construction of the Haifa seaport, and beat Ashdod to the mark.
Lior Gutman contributed to this report
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