Today marks 30 days since the death of Yaakov Gadish, one of Israel's most prominent financial and social figures, who served as the Finance Ministry's director of budgets. Two weeks before his death, I met with him at his home in Kvutzat Yavneh. Cancer was spreading through his body, but he did not give up. As in other areas in his life, he continued to fight.
After a general chat on what was going on in the country, Gadish asked me to come closer. He rested his hand on mine and said: "There are three things I want to speak with you about. The first is the land. I am about to complete a big reform at the Israel Lands Administration, a reform that will essentially transfer ownership of land to citizens. Anyone who owns an apartment in a high-rise and anyone who owns a house on up to half a dunam [an 1/8th of an acre] of land, will be able to capitalize his leasing fees, at a certain discount, and get the land for 196 years. That is enough for your children, your children's children, and their children.
"The capitalization will cover 99 percent of the land, and there will be no need for ILA involvement in selling the land to an Israeli citizen, who will also no longer have to pay `agreement fees.' It will only be necessary to get ILA approval to sell to foreigners - in order to avoid losing it to hostile elements." And Israeli Arab citizens will be able to buy land with no impediment? "Yes," Gadish replied.
It has been a few weeks and Industry and Trade Minister Ehud Olmert, who is responsible for the ILA, has not published the Gadish Committee's recommendations. Debate rages in the background. The treasury says that 100 percent of the land should be capitalized; in other words, the land should be sold outright to the citizens and the outdated leasing system should be terminated. Modern economies are based on private property and freedom - necessary conditions for development and growth.
The treasury adds that any fear that wealthy Saudis will buy the land is pointless. First, if they want to, let them buy land and invest billions of dollars in Israel. Second, they won't, because they know that the state has hundreds of laws to help it nationalize land at any given moment - and you can't take the land out of the state. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who prefers to leave the ILA with some sort of power, supports the Gadish recommendations and suggests selling the citizen 99 percent of the rights.
After a moment's pause, Gadish moved on to the next subject. "Once, many years ago," he said, "Levi Eshkol had just $700,000 in the state coffers, and even that was not so sure. However, since he knew very well that a people cannot live without land, and land doesn't exist if it isn't tended, he used the money for a national water carrier that would bring water from Lake Kinneret to make the Negev desert bloom.
"The Arabs have land, from states ranging from Libya to Pakistan, and we have just this little sliver of land here. It isn't so important where the fence passes, because eventually we will be left with just the 1967 borders, more or less, so it is important to maintain the land we have, to work it. Because in the end, the land belongs to those who cultivate it.
"I have investigated and determined that it is impossible to grow agricultural products if treated water is used that costs more than NIS 1.5 per cubic meter. Above that price, there will be no farming, the land will not be ours and then the State of Israel will not exist. That is why the price of water for farming should not be raised."
The third subject was Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's economic policies. It is no secret that Gadish didn't like Netanyahu and didn't support his policies. "Do you know the difference between revolution and evolution?" he asked, and replied immediately: "If you try to start a revolution, you end up encountering resistance from all sides and as a result you lose. That, for instance, happened with local government. Clearly dozens of local governments need to be merged, but it is impossible to make declarations about the merger of 200 municipalities because the result will be sweeping opposition from mayors, political parties and politicians. Problems are resolved through evolution, not revolution.
"Netanyahu created revolutions for the past two years, but the result is social disaster. The rich got richer, and the poor got poorer. For instance, Netanyahu's revolution in guaranteed income payments is a poor policy that caused serious social injustice. The changes should have been made slowly, in measured steps, as part of an evolution, not revolution."
These comments represent Gadish well. He was a social economist. He perfected the outlook that the science of economics wasn't meant to take care only of economic growth, but also, maybe mostly, to defend the weak. More than anything, he saw the person behind the numbers.
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