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Israel is now a ship without a captain

Israelis expect their government to pass a state budget and find solutions for the severe crises in the energy, transportation and economic sectors.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Knesset assembly hall for a special session in memory of Ze'ev Jabotinsky, on July 13, 2021. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Knesset assembly hall for a special session in memory of Ze'ev Jabotinsky, on July 13, 2021. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Eran Bar-Tal
Eran Bar-Tal

One month after its inauguration, it seems the greatest advantage coalition members see in Israel’s new government is its very existence.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is not very popular. He hasn’t been seen or heard much in public. He has not led efforts to tackle the most important issue this very government was formed to deal with—passing a budget and enacting economic policies. Nor is he leading efforts in other important fields like infrastructure, public transportation and housing. We’re all familiar with the power vacuum in government ministries, but the premiership is another story.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman presented the foundations for the Arrangements Law and State Budget Law, as well as expected structural changes to the market. It appears Bennett will be forced to agree to all these incoming proposals. It’s doubtful he’ll be looking into them, or into Lieberman’s explosive proposal to stop subsidizing daycare for haredim.

Bennett also appears to have limited say over other financial offices. While the media has been talking nonstop about a “housing crisis,” more pressing issues include the crises in the transportation and energy sectors, as well as obstacles to growth like a lack of employees.

Closed borders have Israel’s roads reaching a boiling point. Roads are packed mainly in big cities, but not only. Congestion pricing won’t solve the problem when there are no immediate public transportation alternatives available. In this field, bold decisions are necessary, for example, authorizing the use of a solution such as the Uber ride-hailing service. After all, during peak traffic, taxis and other modes of public transportation aren’t better options. Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli has been focused on the correct temperature on trains, but trains won’t solve the serious crisis that is worsening by the day. with no solution in sight.

Energy Minister Karine Elharrar joined Economy Minister Orna Barbivai and Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg in issuing statements on reining in greenhouse emissions and increasing solar-energy production. In the meantime, however, energy consumption is on the rise, and solar energy will not be able to meet demand as long as there are no developments in the field of energy storage. Yuval Steinitz, Elharrar’s predecessor, was also fairly ambitious. The Electricians Association has clearly shown that absent the immediate establishment of natural gas power plants, Israel will experience power shortages in a few years. We all share a desire for clean energy, but not at the risk of there not being enough to go around.

At the same time, there is a serious shortage of workers in many fields, and this is likely to continue even after the government cuts payments to workers on unpaid leave. The government does not have any answers for issues such as the need for foreign and local workers, something that has led to the increased cost of labor and appears poised to be yet another obstacle to growth.

The government has avoided a confrontation with the Histadrut labor union despite its excessive demands to increase the minimum wage at a time when the country is still in a state of crisis from the coronavirus pandemic. The prime minister has not made himself heard in any of these crises that are already here. He is likely politically incapable of leading the effort toward a solution. By the end of the summer, the government will need to authorize a vote on the State Budget and Arrangements Laws. The way things look now, it will be forced to approve anything that comes its way.

Eran Bar-Tal is Israel Hayom’s business and finance editor.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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