For six long years, officials at the transportation and finance ministries crafted a plan that would dramatically increase the number of tourists and flights landing in Israel while significantly lowering prices for Israeli travelers. The Open Skies reform was designed to increase competition, decrease prices and make it easier for foreign airlines to compete with Israeli companies and their artificial advantage.
In July, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz signed a document containing the gist of the reform, declaring a new era that would see Israel "become inseparable from the European Union countries." He predicted a substantial decrease in prices.
Everyone was ready for the historic signing of the agreement planned for this week at a meeting of European transportation ministers in Brussels. Everyone, that is, except Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. At the end of last week the Transportation Ministry declared, following Netanyahu's orders, that the agreement would not be signed "in order to refrain from significant decisions on the eve of an election."
The decision shocked professionals in Israel and the European Union, not only due to its embarrassing timing, its contempt for the people who put together the plan and the fear of damaging Israel's foreign relations. "Decreasing airline prices is a move one should be proud of before an election," a government source said. "The signing ceremony arrived with perfect timing, just like the reform in the cell phone market just before voters went to the polls. What political consideration could beat that?"
The answer is probably linked to the forces that oppose the reform and the competition it envisions. El Al, for example, used lobbyists to influence MKs, workers' unions at Israeli carriers threatened to punish the government in the election, and the pilots, too, voiced their opposition to the move, which might have cut their handsome salaries.
And so the Netanyahu government once again caved in to the interests of those who enjoy the fruits of market failings and a corrupt system, even at the expense of the public. Certain interest groups found their way to Netanyahu's heart, while his lips still call on his ministers to be "Kahlons" - like Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon and his popular reform of the cell phone industry.
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