Opinion |

After 40 Years in Power, Netanyahu's Party Is Still Fighting 'The Socialists'

The prime minister's ‘new free-market plan’ is nothing but a collection of empty election campaign promises

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Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and outgoing Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat embrace during a news conference in Jerusalem. February 23, 2015
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his pick for future finance minister, for Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, February 23, 2015Credit: \ REUTERS

It doesn’t matter that Likud has been in power, with short breaks, for 43 years already. Nor does it matter that Benjamin Netanyahu has been prime minister for 11 straight years. He and Likud will always be in the opposition, while the left and the Mapai party – the Labor Party precursor that ruled Israel for its first three decades – will always be in power. And therefore, they’re to blame for everything.

Reality plays no role here; image is the determining factor. Therefore, to save the country, we have to get the left out of power.

As part of the opposition’s efforts to oust Mapai, Netanyahu unveils a series of “new” plans and promises covering almost every walk of life before every election. One time it’s a plan to thwart Iran, another time it’s a direct threat against Hamas. (“We’re preparing the surprise of their lives for them.”) And this week, it was a new economic plan with six “huge reforms” that will lead us straight to a place of honor among “the five most advanced countries in the world,” no less.

This “economic plan” will be led by Nir Barkat, Netanyahu’s new candidate for finance minister. Barkat wasn’t a great success as mayor of Jerusalem. He received it in the fourth socioeconomic bracket (on a scale of one to 10, one being the poorest) and drove it down into the second bracket. But now, he’s presenting a new economic plan whose headline is “a free market.”

So first of all, this isn’t a plan, and it certainly isn’t free. It’s a collection of slogans that are nothing but empty campaign promises. Not a single item in this “plan” comes with a cost estimate.

The first item deals with Israel’s high food prices. It recommends “reducing customs duties” as a way of lowering prices. That’s a fine idea, but who stopped Netanyahu and his various finance ministers from lowering tariffs in the past?

In fact, they did the exact opposite: They left the high tariffs on imported milk, meat, chicken, eggs, vegetables, fruit and other products in place. They didn’t even abolish the Bolshevik cartel that controls the local dairy industry. And to win a few more votes from farmers, the plan also proposes “massive support for farmers,” an approach that’s the diametric opposite of a free market.

The second item deals with housing prices, which have doubled over the last decade. Here the plan recommends “a wholesale release of state lands.” This, too, is an excellent idea. But who stopped Netanyahu from doing it in the past? Who stopped him from eradicating the last dinosaur, the Israel Lands Authority, and selling state land to anyone who wants it?

The plan also calls for “reducing taxes on the purchase and sale of homes.” Wonderful. But over the last five years, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon actually increased those very taxes, with Netanyahu’s approval. And here, too, to pander to young couples, Netanyahu is proposing “mortgage subsidies” – the diametric opposite of a free market.

The third item deals with health. “We’ll build another four hospitals and add another 700 [hospital] beds each year, thereby reducing overcrowding and waiting times.” Miracle of miracles. But how much will this cost? Hush! Don’t mention it.

And what will we cut? Nothing. So how will we cope with the huge deficit Netanyahu has left us, which requires cutting the budget by 20 billion shekels ($5.8 billion)? We won’t cope.

Item 4 of the plan promises “huge investments in Galilee, the Negev and Judea and Samaria,” including another university in Galilee. But such a university is completely unnecessary. It’s good only as a campaign promise.

Item 5 is also an empty promise, this time to small businesses, which will have their municipal taxes frozen for five years. If so, why weren’t they frozen during the previous five years?

Item 6 deals with the technologies of the future. Have we already mentioned cyber? And there’s also artificial intelligence, biotechnology and robotics. Well, that’s mandatory if we’re to reach fifth place worldwide.

All this shows that the “plan” is nothing but a list of Netanyahu’s failures. And if we’re already talking about that list, we ought to add the biggest civic failure of all – the lack of public transportation, which forces us to sit in endless traffic jams.

But that will apparently be fixed after the fourth election. Then we’ll finally manage to get rid of the Mapai government. Let us breathe for once.