The central problem
In its centennial year, Israel will have 17 million residents. According to the current distribution, most of them will live in the center of the country, and the overcrowding will be unbearable. The "Israel 2048 – Shared Future" Initiative promotes a national campaign to eventually turn the Negev and the Galilee into independent, prosperous and robust centers. We checked with party representatives whether they believe in this vision, and if there is a chance for a better future.
It will happen in less than 30 years: 2048, Israel’s centennial. National leaders will certainly be proud of the small country, which, despite the challenges, has attained impressive achievements, and is among the most developed countries in the world. But if Israel continues to grow demographically at the same rate, without making any adjustments, a resident of the Dan region who wants to attend, for example, the Independence Day events in Jerusalem, will spent 5-6 hours in a traffic jam.
According to forecasts, in 2048 the population of Israel will number 17 million people. According to the current distribution, 13 million of them will live in the center of the country, and the rest in the vast Negev and Galilee. This means that the center of the country will suffer from intolerable overcrowding, which will create huge traffic jams (yes, worse than today), more competition in the employment market, and even a slowdown in growth.
At the same time, the Negev and the Galilee will become weak areas. Israeli Arabs, Bedouin and ultra-Orthodox Jews will constitute about half of the population, but in the Negev and Galilee, they will be 75%.
This realization gave birth to the Israel 2048– Shared Future initiative, a framework in which civil organizations work together to promote a national process for developing a plan to transform the Negev and the Galilee into major centers. When the plan is fully implemented, the Negev and Galilee will be centers almost equal to the central region, a change that will facilitate dispersion of the population. Within this framework, the Centennial Group – consisting of the OR Movement for Development of the Negev and Galilee and 200 partners, including the Student Union, the Israel Builders Association, the Negev Council and many others – was established, based on the understanding that the Negev and Galilee are our growth engines. Together, they have built a plan for turning the Negev and Galilee into new centers.
Less than one week before Israeli citizens go to the polls and elect national leaders to steer the country, we checked with some of the parties and lists contending in the election and asked them if they believe in Israel 2048 – A Shared Future, and if there is hope for a future better than the glum, statistical prediction.
Likud - Nir Barkat
“Israel is committed to making the periphery more attractive,” says Barkat. “To expand the growth circles to Jerusalem, the Galilee and the Golan, Judea and Samaria, the Negev and Arava and agricultural areas, and turn them into magnets for entrepreneurs by bringing in new businesses and young people who will want to live in them. To that end, a systemic perspective is needed in order to accelerate economic development. As I did in Jerusalem, I am building a 5-year plan on the issue. Together with Israel 2048, the Kohelet Policy Forum, the Israel Growth initiative, Professor Michael Porter from Harvard, and a team of international researchers, we will conduct a study that maps competitive employment clusters that will be engines of growth. We are also preparing a plan to lower obstacles to growth.
“In June, I will present a five-year plan to the government, with the aim of integrating the model into its policy, with incentives for the development of religiously appropriate tourism in the north and Judea and Samaria; sports and recreation in the south. We will rely on the advantages of each region so that it becomes a world leader in its field. In the south, we will establish a model for water conservation and alternative energy. In the north, we will offer incentives for efforts that combine technology and agriculture, and in Judea and Samaria, we will create additional, integrated industrial zones.”
Blue and White - Michael Biton
“As the founder and chairman of the Negev Council, I am one of the partners in the Israel 2048 initiative” says Michael Biton, former mayor of Yeruham and currently number 11 on the Blue and White list. “It’s possible and necessary to plan for future decades. That’s what I did as mayor. I planned a reserve of 6,000 housing units, we built 3,000. We doubled the city. We prepared a Master Plan, and City Construction Plans. This is the model: small and medium-sized cities that can double themselves and absorb more residents. In order for this to happen, and have new residents join them, they must establish thriving communities that will benefit from culture, quality education, and a proper health system.
“High-tech has not reached Kiryat Shemona and Yeruham, and this growth engine has to be spread, which will bring growth to the periphery that is not taking part in the celebration.” The health system, with additional hospitals, doctors, nurses and specialists, must be improved. Israel must be covered by a network of public transport, a train line from Kiryat Shemona to Mitzpe Ramon and Eilat, as well as establishing another international airport in the south. The south is well represented on our list with Meir Cohen who was mayor of Dimona, and Alon Shuster who headed the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council. Elazar Stern is from the north. We are all committed.”
Labor - Itzik Shmuli
“An interim review at the 70-year point, shows something to be proud of,” says MK Itzik Shmuli. “The question is where we are going. External threats will always exist, but internal threats – social gaps, polarization and ethnic rifts – demand a serious response. The way is to establish a vision, long-term planning, and consistent implementation of it.”
Shmuli called the Israel 2048 project a welcome initiative. “It considers the periphery as an opportunity, not a problem, and that’s critical. People do not want to connect to misery, rather they want to be part of a success story. This the first time that the Negev and the Galilee are being discussed as a growth engine, and that is a great innovation. This is an updated version of Zionism. People will live in peripheral regions but demand, rightfully, that there be responses for all areas of life: from employment and housing to health and education, and community and leisure activities.”
According to Shmuli, the Labor Party is committed to the plan. “We published a detailed plan that is integrated with this initiative. There is no reason that for every 100 kilometers from Tel Aviv, income drops by 15%, and people live five fewer years because the health system has been left behind, that they are not served by having access to normal public transportation, and their children will have fewer opportunities because of lower investment, by hundreds of percent, in the education system. This is not a decree of fate. This is the result of a distorted government policy.”
Kulanu - Roy Folkman
MK Roy Folkman also pledged that his party would adopt the “centers” vision of the Israel 2048 initiative, and presented the party’s steps in the field: “We will continue with tax benefits for residents of the periphery, with emphasis on high salaries for school principals, so that the best principals will want to work there,” he promises.
“We will promote a model of strong regional cities with a policy of economic development, innovation and quality of life for the region, and the resources will be transferred from the state level to the regional level. We will strengthen quality employment opportunities in joint industrial zones, and grant benefits to small and medium enterprises. Public transportation will be developed to connect communities to the metropolitan cities in the new centers and will increase the housing targets in the Negev and the Galilee.”
Gesher - Orly Levy-Abekasis
Gesher chairwomen Orly Levy-Abekasis is a second-generation fighter for the development of the periphery.
“Gesher is very connected to the Israel 2048 initiative, and this is evident in our platform. The establishment of centers to deal with the development of the north and the south, and a system for reducing gaps and to make the health, education, transportation systems accessible, as well as industrial zones, tourism and other levers. We wrote explicitly: ‘Four strong metropolitan areas should be established around the central cities, and thereby facilitate controlled decentralization of authority so that we can shorten planning and implementation processes with a spatial view that integrates the national and local.’
“Our entire program deals with long-term planning. ‘The health, welfare, education and infrastructure systems need ongoing planning so that we do not find ourselves promoting patchwork solutions – as the government has done to date – which cost more money and provide a partial response.’ This is the wording in our platform. The development of the Negev and the Galilee will lead to the realization of another goal to which we have committed ourselves: ‘to ensure real economic growth, which everyone feels, and not just a thin layer that enjoys economic flow while the rest of the citizenry waits for drops to trickle down.’”
The New Right - Alona Barkat
The New Right list has a clear plan for turning the Negev into a real center. Last week, Alona Barkat, number 3 on the list, unveiled her vision of the south and the Negev in particular, entitled, “The New South.” Barkat, who turned Hapoel Be’er Sheva into a soccer empire, declared that her plan for the south is a precondition for joining a government. The plan carries a name that demands commitment, “The same law for the south as for Tel Aviv.”
“If the South were to receive the same resources as in Tel Aviv,” she says, “we could recruit strongly committed people, and foment a revolution just like we did in soccer. I’m moving from soccer to politics in order to replicate the revolution in other areas and serve as minister for the south in the next government.
“According to the first part of the plan, all of the southern communities that are in the range of rockets will receive the confrontation line tax benefits that have been stolen from them all these years. These amount to hundreds and thousands of shekels a month for a household. Today, households within 7 kilometers of the Gaza Strip receive the benefits, as opposed to 9 km in the north. The plan will also include benefits for Ashdod, Ashkelon and Be’er Sheva. This will implement the Home Front Command’s instruction for a “special situation on the Home Front” in communities up to 40 kilometers from the Gaza border.
“The second issue is employment. The employment situation in the south is the worst in Israel, with the lowest average wage, twice the unemployment, and the most businesses at risk of closure. We must construct an international airport, Ben-Gurion 2, which will add 30,000 jobs and cause an employment revolution. There is infrastructure at Nevatim: there are already runways and the site is already registered in the international aviation registry. It is already connected to the center via Highway 6 and the train.
“The third part is health: the lag is huge: half of the number of beds, doctors and nurses per capita as compared to the center. The waiting time to see a doctor is five times as long. Soroka is collapsing. The project to build a new hospital in Be’er Sheva has been delayed for years, and in the meantime residents of the south die five years earlier, and infant mortality is double. We will ensure that there is a rehabilitation hospital in southern Be’er Sheva, that the hospital in Ashdod receives the additional beds it has requested, and that incentives are given to doctors.”
The list explains that although Barkat focuses on the south, they definitely connect to the Israel 2048 vision of the centers, and the Galilee will enjoy the same development.
Union of Right-Wing Parties - Rabbi Rafi Peretz
Rabbi Rafi Peretz, chairman of the Union of Right-Wing Parties, said that “Israel is a Jewish and democratic state, and we will continue to deepen these two values simultaneously. The most important value is settlement. The more established it is, the stronger our social strength. As a resident of the south for half of my life, first in Gush Katif and then, after the expulsion, in the Gaza border region, I believe that alongside improving transportation infrastructure and public transport, which will bring the periphery closer to the center, the south and the north should be developed to offer their own vibrant center.
“Fifteen years ago, we recognized that the mission is to populate the Negev and established Neve in the Halutza dunes. The future of the State lies in development of the Negev and Galilee – we do not have swamps to dry, but there are certainly regions to make bloom. Israel 2048 has succeeded in developing a vision and showing the way to implement it. The Union of Right-Wing Parties, under my leadership, will work for the development and strengthening of existing communities in the Negev and Galilee, giving them government priority in all areas: incentives for residents, removing obstacles to business establishment, opening health clinics, allocating budgets for farmers, and improving transportation infrastructure.
The south and the north must offer vibrant centers of employment, health and quality education that will attract populations that seek the benefits of these regions. As a resident of the Negev, I am aware of the challenges of the place, deal with them every day, and am committed to changing the situation with all my being.”
On the face of it, right before the elections, it seems that everyone understands that the Galilee and Negev are Israel’s growth engines. If they are not used properly, it isn’t certain that we will indeed have something to celebrate at Israel’s centennial.