Management Theory, Israeli Style

The entire theory of public administration in Israel is characterized by hostility to simple, clear solutions and preference for vagueness, complications, and the best of all, ambiguous language.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon opened the winter session of the Knesset this week with an empty, dry speech, Sharonesque in content and form. The person elected after the public believed his promise to bring peace and security once again promised there's "a real chance in the coming months we will be able to break the deadlock and advance toward an agreement." Maybe there are still some who believe. He called for "responsible elements to join in support for the road map," but was quick to add "including the 14 reservations authorized by the government." But the 14 reservations turn the road map into a useless document, which is acceptable to no one except the Israeli government.

That system, of accepting but not accepting, authorizing but not meaning it, is characteristic not only of Sharon. The entire theory of public administration in Israel is characterized by hostility to simple, clear solutions and preference for vagueness, complications, and the best of all, ambiguous language. Here are some examples from various spheres.

- Security. When the separation fence was first raised by Uzi Dayan and Haim Ramon, the idea was to build a fence on the Green Line, with some minor corrections, on lines as straight as possible. Had it been done that way, a fence would have already been inexpensively built, on an easy-to-defend route, lowering the number of terror attacks. And the final border would wait until it was determined through negotiations.

But Sharon and the settlers opposed it, until they were forced, under public pressure, to make a decision. Of course it was amazingly complicated. A winding unwieldy fence with "horseshoes" around Ariel, twice as long, four times as expensive, annexing territories without any negotiations, collaring 75,000 Palestinians in four salients with no exit, engendering opposition all over the world, raising the walls of hatred and therefore increasing the threat of terror attacks. The IDF says that because of its long, winding route, it will need 30 battalions to defend the fence, and the army can't afford that.

- Transportation. For years there's been talk of a subway for Tel Aviv. There's a subway in every major city in the West and in the East. The decisions have been delayed for decades, but lately a clear route has been drawn for one. But once again, the theory of complicated management has intervened, and a decision was made for neither a subway nor an elevated train but for a strange combination with a little bit of everything, part subway and light elevated train and surface train and semi-submerged train that runs lower than street level but is not completely underground.

Thus the public will get all the disadvantages together: an expensive, complicated-to-maintain railroad that in places takes lanes away from traffic, in places blocks intersections and is not able to move a large mass of passengers during rush hours.

- Agriculture. The main reason for the water crisis that has long plagued the country is well known and has been known for years: the low cost of subsidized water for the farmers, causing waste, investment in crops suitable for Norway, and inefficient allocation of water through quotas, which harms the good, efficient farmers.

The price of water for farming is NIS 1 per cubic meter, while households and industry pay NIS 2 per cubic meter - and that's before the steep added costs the cities impose on their residents, raising the cost to NIS 5-8.5 per cubic meter (including sewage fees). If they were to raise the cost of water to farmers to NIS 2 per cubic meter (and help the farmers by subsidizing land) the waste would come to a halt, and the water problem would be solved.

But they don't like simple logical solutions here. So they decided to build desalination plants that will make water more expensive, and to import water from Turkey, which will make water even more expensive. The result is that households and industry will end up paying even higher rates for water while the farmers continue to waste.