The socioeconomic strategy planning staff in the Prime Minister’s Office began its work about half a year ago, and this past week the cabinet received its first report: a comprehensive socioeconomic analysis and forecast that surveyed the challenges facing the Israeli economy through 2050.
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In a well-run country, long-term planning is an integral part of the government’s work. In Israel, even the Brodet Report, which outlined the defense budget for a period of 10 years, was considered a breakthrough.
Planning for the coming decades is thus a welcome process, on condition that governments actually adhere to the principles set out in the strategic plan. It would behoove the government to do so, since the forecast it received was rather gloomy. According to the projection, Israel is at risk of socioeconomic collapse unless it takes some meaningful steps.
The report shows that the decades in which Israel conducted itself without any long-term planning will take its toll as soon as next year: Beginning in 2014 Israel will sink into a structural budget deficit that will begin at 3 percent annually and expand within two decades to a huge 10 percent. A structural deficit refers to a situation in which the government spends more than it takes in, not as a result of transient factors but rather the entrenched integral characteristics of the economy. A 10 percent structural deficit, which is impossible to overcome, means economic collapse.
This rotten fruit is the result of many years of neglect of two minority populations − the ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs. The state capitulated to the Haredim all through the years, looking away as they didn’t teach a core curriculum, didn’t serve in the army and didn’t work. The Arabs were discriminated against by the state and left without a decent education or sources of livelihood. Both are poor and excluded populations that have no chance of intergrating into Israeli society, even as Israeli society has no chance unless they integrate.
That is the unequivocal message that emerges from the state’s strategic forecast: Without the integration of the Haredim and the Arabs, the state will have difficulty sustaining itself over time. The government must make dealing with these two communities one of its top priorities.
In the case of the Haredim, this means weaning them away from the unreasonable benefits they were receiving from the state, which enabled them to maintain an unsustainable lifestyle. In the case of the Arabs, it must involve a proactive effort to encourage employment, rehabilitate the Arab local authorities and overhaul the failing Arab education system.
Without taking these measures, painful and difficult as they may be, the Haredim, Arabs and the entire State of Israel will have no future at all.