Israel is Leading an Infrastructure Revolution

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, today (Monday, 2 July 2018), attended the dedication ceremony for the Ra’anana West and Ra’anana South railway stations. Before the ceremony, they traveled by train from Ra’anana West to Ra’anana South.

Following is an excerpt from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s remarks:

“We just traveled from one side of Ra’anana to the other and we saw the gleaming towers and the high-tech. You see the progress and the prosperity of the [industrial] parks. You see Israel innovating and you see the future, you really see the future.

Regarding tunnels, we are both building and destroying. We are destroying the terrorist tunnels of those people who are not investing like us in a better life for their people but only in how to attack us.

And in contrast we are building these tunnels here which shorten the distances.

I just told Yisrael [Katz] that with the great link that we are making – north to south, south to center, center to center – we are here joining everything together and opening all these possibilities.

In the end, within the cities, even though there has been an effort to do very important work with elevated trains, underground trains, express highways and express lanes, in the end we will need to dig many tunnels with new technology.”

Israel Preparing to Lead in Global Smart Mobility

New pilot program intended to promote companies that will impact the state of transportation in Israel and the world

The goal of Israel’s new pilot program in transportation is to help promote companies aimed at improving transportation and to develop Israel’s hi-tech industry through technological innovation in the field of traffic systems and transportation infrastructure.

Technological spheres within the pilot program include, among others: autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles, connected vehicles, ridesharing and carpooling models, monitoring technologies and processing of traffic data, innovative methods of operating transportation services, reducing traffic congestion and collisions, minimizing the use of oil and encouraging use of public transportation.

Other goals of the program include:

  • Developing and implementing innovative technologies and paradigms that will improve the state of transportation and develop Israel’s world-leading innovation industry.
  • Making transportation systems more efficient in Israel and around the world.
  • Creating and growing sustainable companies in the field of transportation through the promotion of innovative technological solutions.

Israeli Minister of Transportation and Minister of Intelligence, Yisrael Katz, noted that:

“Creating pilot programs in an environment simulating real-world transportation conditions will allow Israeli startups to develop rapidly and penetrate markets more quickly. In addition, the project will improve the government’s regulatory capabilities and its ability to adapt to rapid developments. The Transportation Ministry will continue to spearhead the effort to make the State of Israel a hub of innovation for the future of transportation and smart technology. Technology is progressing by leaps and bounds, and it is our governmental duty to guide these advances from a regulatory standpoint so that they can be implemented as soon as possible.”

Israeli Minister of Economy and Industry, Eli Cohen, said:

“While Israel’s innovation ecosystem has become a global role model, this has yet to seep into Israel’s own transportation system, which will continue to face significant challenges for the near future. We believe that Israel’s transportation system needs a significant boost and by launching this pilot program, we are enabling the industry to open new avenues, and for startup companies in the transportation sector to grow and mature. This revolutionary program is an important step towards connecting the success of Israel’s hi-tech industry with the transportation industry. The program will enable companies to make significant progress developing solutions for commercialization by running tests in the pilot stage.”

In continuation of government resolution (No. 2316) regarding the establishment of a national program for smart transportation, the Israeli Ministry of Transportation, the Fuel Choices and Smart Mobility Initiative in the Prime Minister’s Office, and the Israel Innovation Authority are jointly launching this program to support technological innovation – in particular pilot programs for new technologies and new paradigms for transportation systems.

It will be the first time that the Israel Innovation Authority will be funding such pilot programs as part of its strategy to support comprehensive scaling of companies. The Ministry of Transportation will offer additional support by helping the companies with the regulatory requirements needed to carry out their pilots and by increasing access to new fields of activity – moves that will also enable the government to innovate its regulatory approach, to swiftly adapt to technological change, and to foster steady and balanced growth for startups as well as the Israeli economy.

The program is intended for Israeli tech companies in the field of transportation. They will receive financial support of 20%-50% for approved R&D expenses – with additional support of up to 75% of R&D expenses for projects which can demonstrate significant potential to streamline and improve transportation within Israel. The program will help offset the risks involved in R&D, without taking a stake in future profits. Companies will return their grants to the Israel Innovation Authority via royalties from sales only if an initiative has been commercialized.

Criteria for joining the program include: level of technological innovation and uniqueness of a pilot; level of difficulty and technological challenge; a company’s capabilities including management’s ability to lead a program to commercial success; the economic-business growth potential of a company if the pilot succeeds; the overall technological and vocational potential to the Israeli economy; the overall effect a project can have on improving transportation in Israel and making it more efficient – in particular, reducing traffic congestion and collisions, reducing oil dependence and encouraging a transition to public transportation; level of regulatory viability in implementing a proposal; quality of the pilot program – including the level of the test site and the synergy between the company and the site; and the pilot program’s potential benefits to the company itself in terms of its go-to-market and commercialization strategies.

Chief Scientist at the Israel Ministry of Economy and Industry and Chairman of the Israel Innovation Authority, Dr. Ami Appelbaum, said:

“In order to put an autonomous vehicle on the road, you need the regulatory approval of the Ministry of Transportation. When you design software to control the traffic light system, you also need cooperation from the ministry. This new program will provide solutions to these issues: a dedicated internal team will examine tech companies with new technological developments and will help fast track requests for regulatory approvals to support these innovative technologies. The goal of the program is to provide tech companies with funding for the advanced stages of development necessary for commercializing new innovations and introducing them to the market. It is intended to provide access to infrastructure, data and sites where government has access and regulatory oversight, which are less accessible for this very reason. This way, companies can test and develop innovative technologies in these arenas, with government agencies promoting regulation to support these initiatives. The moment we create more forward-thinking regulation better suited to these new technologies, we open the door for tech companies to undertake tests that were not possible in the past, and we create an opportunity to forge innovative regulations for the entire Israeli economy for the future.”

Aharon Aharon, CEO of the Israel Innovation Authority, said:

“Operating programs and pilots in real-time environments with adapted regulation will allow Israeli technology companies to offer proof of concept and quickly penetrate markets, thus helping them grow into large-scale companies in Israel. In addition, the commercialization of innovative technologies in Israel will improve the local market and the government’s regulatory capabilities and will help government entities help propel tech companies from idea to commercialization. The claim is often made that regulation and not technology is what prevents our world from transforming in the way many technology leaders are predicting. For this purpose, the Israel Innovation Authority is joining together with the transportation industry to spur the type of innovation which has advanced beyond the laboratory towards trial environments by focusing on such pilots.”

Is Bibi Losing His Grip on His Government

Whether or not Health Minister Yaakov Litzman’s resignation and subsequent reinstatement after a last-minute agreement with Prime Minister Netanyahu solves the current coalition crisis, one thing is clear, Bibi is beginning to lose his grip on his coalition.

The Prime Minister has always done an excellent job in balancing various interests of sectoral parties within his coalition by explaining to the factions that all would lose with new elections.  While there is still some truth to this, Likud’s falling poll numbers suggest a different story altogether.  Couple this with Avi Gabbai’s rise as Labor leader and the paradigm which saw Likud as the right wing and traditional anchor for those religious parties has fallen away.

This doesn’t mean that Bibi will be dethroned if elections were to be held, but he is no shoe in anymore and what is increasingly becoming apparent is that self-interested ministers within his party are beginning to sense he is weak.

MK Eichler from UTJ claims that it was in fact Transportation Minister Katz who created this crisis.

“There is no explanation that the Likud government will expand the work done on Shabbat except for the attempt by the Transportation Minister and Welfare Minister to topple the government. The traditional Likud voters will not forgive them if Netanyahu’s government falls apart,” Eichler was quoted as saying.

This may be in the realm of rumor, but the facts are in.  The construction took place with the approval of Minister Yisrael Katz who had to know that this would create a crisis.

None of this is important other than to point out that Bibi is finally being seen as weak and this perception is from within the Likud itself.

With a rising Jewish Home and UTJ on the religious right and a revamped Labor under Avi Gabbai who is religiously traditional as well as a centrist when it comes to security and “settlements,” Likud is finally beginning to worry that Bibi has lost his touch and thus his grip.

Once again, none of this means that the Prime Minister’s days are numbered, especially since he has been counted out plenty of times before only to surprise. However, the younger generation in Israel, which has grown up and matured after the Second Intifada, Gaza Withdrawal, and Second Lebanon War has discarded the mistakes of breaking Israeli politics into a polarized relationship revolving around the Two-State Solution and Religious-Secular relationships.  The younger generation has come of age and appears to see things far differently than the elder statesmen of Bibi’s generation.

Time will tell if the current flare up with the Chareidi UTJ is the beginning of the end for Bibi or a tremor of a far bigger earthquake to come.

A Trumpian Israeli Initiative

US President-elect Donald Trump won’t even take office for another month, but he has already killed the status quo.

During the election, Trump trounced the untouchable consensus on NATO’s post-Cold War purpose. Questioning the purpose of an alliance formed to fight a war that ended 25 years ago is indisputably a reasonable thing to do. But until Trump came around, no one did.

Since November 7, Trump has continue to reject accepted wisdom. For 44 years no US president would speak with the president of Taiwan. And then President-elect Trump took a call from Taiwan’s President-elect Tsai Ing-wen.

It’s not clear where Trump stands on either NATO or Taiwan. But it is eminently apparent that by ignoring protocol, Trump expanded his maneuver room in his dealings with NATO and China.

Then of course, there is Jerusalem. Since 1948 the US has refused to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – or even as part of Israel. This policy of non-recognition – embodied by the US refusal to transfer the US embassy to Jerusalem – has been maintained by a bipartisan consensus despite the fact that for the past 20 years, US law has required the State Department to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the embassy to Jerusalem.

When Trump promised to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, his words were greeted with cynicism.

But then this week his senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said Trump is serious about moving the embassy to Jerusalem.

In one fell swoop, the 68 year old consensus is gone.

35 years ago, on December 14, 1981, Israel took a Trump-like step. Israel took a wrecking ball to received wisdom.

That day, the Knesset passed the Golan Heights Law. Then prime minister Menachem Begin decided on the initiative the day before. In less than 24 hours, the law when from an idea in Begin’s head into the law books.

The Golan Heights law cancelled the Military Government and Civil Administration that had governed the area since 1967 and replaced them with Israeli law and administration.

The Reagan administration was livid. Begin had neither asked Ronald Reagan for permission nor given Reagan a head’s-up on what he was about to do.

Begin was clearly operating on the basis of the “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than for permission” protocol.

In the event, the Americans weren’t really mad.

Reagan prevented the UN Security Council from sanctioning Israel for its action.

The Syrian regime did nothing. The Arab world yawned.

Israel was spared international condemnation in large part because of the way Begin explained the purpose of the law.

The day before the Knesset passed Begin’s law, the Syrian regime announced it would prefer to fight Israel for 100 years than live at peace with it. That statement, like hundreds of similar ones over the 13 years since Israel took over the strategic plateau reinforced yet again, the basic truth that Israel would be responsible for the Golan Heights for a long, long time.

After the law was passed, Begin and his advisors insisted its purpose was administrative. Israel couldn’t wait for a hundred years to register births and deaths and marriages, they explained. The Syrian legal code, through which the Military Government administered the areas was unsuited to a modern democracy. There was no way to protect the rights of Golan residents so long as Syrian law was the law of the land.

Begin and his advisors explained over and over that the application of Israeli law would have no impact on Israel’s willingness to make territorial concessions to Syria on the Golan in the event that the regime had a change in heart. And indeed, from 1992 until the war in Syria began in 2011, every Israeli government expressed willingness to discuss the future of the Golan Heights with the Syrians.

Aside from safeguarding the civil rights and legal protections of the Israeli citizens and permanent residents in the Golan, the law also defused the issue as a political cause inside of Israel. Everyone could accept the law. Those who wished to conclude a land-for-peace deal with Syria could support the law. Those who wished to retain perpetual Israeli control could live with it.

To safeguard against irresponsible concessions the Knesset passed the referendum law that requires a two thirds Knesset majority to approve territorial compromise on the Golan.

By transferring administrative responsibilities from the military to the government, Israel freed its armed forces to concentrate on their primary mission – defending the country from its enemies.

When Begin passed the Golan Heights Law, he had already learned its basic lesson: When Israel speaks modestly about its objectives, it can achieve a lot more than when it bloviates about them.

Begin learned that lesson a year and a half earlier when he passed Basic Law: Jerusalem. Unlike the Golan Heights Law which changed the situation on the ground, Basic Law: Jerusalem, which announced that Israel’s capital is united Jerusalem, merely described reality. United Jerusalem had been Israel’s capital since immediately after the Six Day War. Weeks after the war the government united the city by expanding its municipal borders to include the neighborhoods that had been under Jordanian occupation since 1949.

Basic Law: Jerusalem was a bit of chest beating. But the beating reverberated like drums of war in the West. And the US responded by enabling the Security Council to pass Resolution 478. Whereas in 1981 the US blocked the Security Council from passing sanctions against Israel for the Golan Heights law, in 1980 it enabled sanctions to be incorporated into the condemnatory resolution.

478 enjoined member states that had embassies in Jerusalem to remove them. Within weeks, 11 of the 13 states that had embassies in Jerusalem had shut them down. The last two were closed in 2006.

The Golan Heights Law’s 35th anniversary was celebrated Wednesday evening at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center. There, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and former cabinet secretary Tzvi Hauser said Israel must lobby Trump to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

While reasonable on their face, their calls ignore the basic lessons of the Golan Heights law, and seem to misread or ignore Trump’s modus operandi.

Trump cares about what works, not what looks good.

He isn’t interested in moving the US embassy to Jerusalem because he cares about recognizing Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem or over anything else for that matter. If Trump moves the embassy he will do so to advance America’s interests.

In one fell swoop, moving the US embassy to Jerusalem will correct a great deal of the damage that eight years of President Barack Obama’s foreign policies have caused to US credibility worldwide.

There is no single step the US can take that will do more to rebuild US credibility as an ally than moving the embassy to Jerusalem. By taking the step that none of his predecessors would take to stand in support of the US’s most embattled ally worldwide, Trump will show that America can again be trusted. And moving the embassy will accomplish this goal without placing one US soldier at risk, and will cost US taxpayers no more than a few million dollars for construction and moving fees.

On a basic level, from Israel’s perspective, what distinguishes Trump from his predecessors is that he has signaled that he views Israel as an ally whereas his predecessors viewed the Jewish state as a burden.

Trump wants and expects wants Israel to be a credible ally. To achieve this, Israel has some status quo icons of its own to shatter. And the Golan Heights Law provides just the roadmap for action.

Begin wasn’t bluffing when he said that the Military Government lacked the legal tools to protect and uphold the rights of the residents of the Golan Heights. In Judea and Samaria, the situation today has similarly reached a critical moment. And whereas Begin cancelled the military government on the Golan when a mere 6,000 Israelis were living there, today 450,000 Israelis live under military administration in Judea and Samaria.

The Israelis in Judea and Samaria all in live what is referred to as Area C. When the Palestinian Authority was established in 1994 it took over governing authority from the Military Government in Areas A and B – the Palestinian population centers.

A mere 100,000 Palestinians live in Area C.

The Military Government administers on the basis of the Jordanian legal code, which has been revised over the past 49 years by various military administrative orders.

As the human drama taking place in the community of Amona makes clear, the existing legal system is incapable of protecting the civil and legal rights of either the Israelis or the Palestinians living under it.

In Amona 40 Israeli families are about to be thrown out of their homes because Jordanian law doesn’t allow Jews to easily purchase land from Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority has made selling land to Jews a capital offense. Israelis in Area C cannot properly adjudicate their legal rights to land in Israeli courts.

As was the case with Syria in 1981, the Palestinian leadership – from the PLO to Hamas – has made clear that it has no interest in making peace with Israel. Palestinian intransigence has brought about a 16 year stalemate in the so-called peace process which has convinced even true believers on the Israeli Left that the time has come to put aside the two-state paradigm.

The latest person to come on board was novelist and leftist ideologue A.B. Yehoshua. Earlier this month Yehoshua told an astonished audience in Jerusalem that the two-state solution is impossible. Yehoshua then endorsed the plan to apply Israeli law to Area C and grant full civil rights to the Palestinians living in the area.

Trump’s rejection of the status quo and his respectful view of Israel gives our leaders the opportunity to join Yehoshua in rejecting the failed “two-state solution” status quo and act on the growing consensus on the Left and Right that the time has come to apply Israeli law to Area C.

True, to a degree even greater than in the Golan Heights, Israel has the legal and historic right to full sovereignty over all of Judea and Samaria. But it is equally true that most Israelis would be willing to negotiate the permanent status of Judea and Samaria with a credible, sincere Palestinian neighbor.

By simply applying its law to the area as an administrative step, Israel keeps all options on the table while securing the civil, legal and human rights of both the Palestinians and the Israelis who live in the area.

Rejecting received wisdom is far less risky than maintaining allegiance to it when it is wrong. Trump obviously recognizes this. The time has come for Israel to recognize it as well.

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.