Israel's president is very sensitive. Against the backdrop of the single mothers' demonstrations, Moshe Katsav appeared on television and announced: "A plan to reduce the dimensions of poverty must be drafted."
No one had asked him: How did this happen? Who is guilty?
Perhaps there is a connection between the war footing we are on and the poverty? Perhaps the tourists stopped coming here because of the terror attacks? Perhaps the economic crisis in which we have been embroiled for the last three years is connected to the government's policies in the territories? Why do the big budgets go to defense, the settlements, paving bypass roads and building magnificent tunnels and bridges in the territories, while there is no similar infrastructure in the Negev or the Galilee, and while the educational system in the periphery is at such a low level?
When Katsav served as transportation minister, he presided over huge investments in roads and bypass roads in the West Bank; while inside the Green Line, the roads are at the level of a Third World country. To this day, there is not even an overpass at the busiest intersection in the country - the Glilot Junction.
When Katsav then became tourism minister, he supported the opening of the Western Wall Tunnel in Jerusalem in 1996 - a move that set the territories on fire and returned Israel to CNN's headlines as a country at war. Later, he supported constructing a Jewish neighborhood at Har Homa in East Jerusalem and expanding the settlements - until the territories began to burn, tourism was damaged and the economy entered a recession.
Poverty is created when part of the population, mainly in the development towns, is not given the appropriate physical and educational infrastructure - and this happens when the state chooses to bear the banner of the settlements and war, when it spouts slogans such as "the best become pilots" rather than "the best become teachers." Under such circumstances, the economy is damaged, growth turns into decline, businesses collapse, unemployment rises, there is no money for anything except defense - and then they cut budgets for infrastructure, education and welfare; and poverty increases.
There is also another reason for the poverty - the import of manual laborers that has caused the wages of Israeli laborers to decline and the workers themselves to drop out of the job market, thus leading to more unemployment and more poverty in slums, development towns and Arab villages. Even today, the government is deporting foreign workers with one hand and issuing new permits for the import of such workers with the other. Moreover, the taxes on foreign workers are lower than those on Israeli workers - an ongoing absurdity.
So you don't need to look far, Mr. President. Just two weeks ago, the socioeconomic cabinet decided to encourage 200 young couples to work in the Jordan Valley and invested a great deal of money in this effort. In the Rama area, the government is giving away state lands for free. But it has no money for appropriate infrastructure and education in the slums and the development towns. The result is a series of economic crises, an increase in the gap between rich and poor and deepening poverty.
To deal with all this, there is no need "to draft a plan." What is needed is a change in policy.
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