The Shadow of the 'White City'

On the eve of the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the state, a master plan for the Tel Aviv area has finally been approved.

On the eve of the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the state, a master plan for the Tel Aviv area - "the social and financial heart of Israel" - has finally been approved. This is no cause for great rejoicing because the planning has barely managed to catch the tail end of the return from the suburbs that has been going on for about a decade.

The additional population envisioned in the plan is not realistic, and construction pressures in the planned region will cause the scheme's frameworks to be breached. The plan applies to the heart of the region (Bat Yam-Herzliya), but as important as this area is, its size is less than 10 percent of the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, which stretches from north of Netanya to south of Ashdod, and as far as Modi'in in the east.

The planners want to present the plan as a way to reduce the strong processes of urbanization that are underway in the metropolitan area, but they are aware that the factors that attract people to the center of employment, education, finance, culture and entertainment are so strong that no regulation will succeed in stopping the flow of well-to-do people to metropolitan Tel Aviv.

Not only will the forces of attraction be at work; so will the forces of rejection. The areas outside metropolitan Tel Aviv are immersed in inter-ethnic friction, which causes fights over the physical space. And there are political and social tensions as well. The result is that well-to-do secular people are fleeing from the extremist atmosphere and finding refuge in "the land of the sane." That is the situation in Jerusalem and it is liable to happen in the Be'er Sheva region, where competition between Jews and Bedouins over physical space will intensify.

There is a basis for the assumption that within a generation or two Israel will be a city-state stretching along the Mediterranean coast from Haifa to Ashdod; a narrow corridor where the vast majority of the Jewish population will be concentrated. The Galilee, the southern Judean Plains and the Arava in the direction of Eilat will function as green lungs and as the land of bed and breakfasts. The hills of Judea and Samaria, including Jerusalem, as well as the Be'er Sheva Valley, will be the arena of the intercommunal struggle.

The city-state of Tel Aviv will benefit from prosperity in all areas, and its success is liable to resemble that of Singapore and Hong Kong if its leaders realize in time that on its southern border there is another city-state named Gaza.

This city covers an area about one-tenth the size of the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, but within a generation the number of residents will equal that of Greater Tel Aviv today - about 2.6 million souls. How will these two huge city-states live alongside each other when already in 2006 the per capita income of Tel Avivians was 30 times that of Gazans?

The huge gap between Tel Aviv and Gaza is known, but everyone suppresses the data and refers to Gaza as a "hostile entity." The disengagement was meant to erase the region from people's awareness, to uproot it from its geographic location and stick it somewhere in southern India, for example. But it is patently impossible to keep millions of people behind barbed-wire fences for a prolonged period, and the fences will be breached one way or another.

Nobody will be able to prevent Gaza's exit to freedom. The construction of seaports and airports, economic development, massive construction, exploitation of the undersea fuel resources, the desalination of seawater - they are the first signs of a Palestinian Singapore.

How will the relations between the State of Tel Aviv and the State of Gaza be conducted? This question should be asked already now, but Tel Aviv's city fathers think otherwise. Now of all times the Tel Aviv Municipality has eliminated the "twin cities" pact that was agreed on with Gaza in 1998. Mayor Ron Huldai declared that "the official cancellation will be examined in the coming days."

Israel has succeeded in recent years in "removing Gaza from Tel Aviv," but it will not succeed in erasing the existence of a sister city-state on the southern border of the State of Tel Aviv; indeed, the shadow of the "White City."