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Climate crisis, COVID-19, Arab community: Government lays out its policy goals

Coalition releases 213-page document meant to direct work of ministries, promising lower cost of living, better services, and more equality

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

The unrecognized Bedouin villages around the Ramat Hovav industrial area in southern Israel suffer from a high level of air pollution from nearby chemical evaporation ponds and an Israel Electric Company power plant, on December 28, 2017. (Yaniv Nadav/Flash90/File)
The unrecognized Bedouin villages around the Ramat Hovav industrial area in southern Israel suffer from a high level of air pollution from nearby chemical evaporation ponds and an Israel Electric Company power plant, on December 28, 2017. (Yaniv Nadav/Flash90/File)

The government released a plan Sunday evening laying out its priorities and goals in a wide range of policy areas, with climate change featuring prominently across the policy document.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told The Times of Israel that with the release of the 213-page document, entitled “The 36th Government: Policy Principles,” the premier hoped to focus particularly on climate change, Arab citizens, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Just as it is impossible to direct a ship without a compass, so too government ministers must define, for themselves and for the public, what goals they are aiming for, and the main areas toward which they will direct energy and resources,” wrote Bennett in his foreword to the document.

“Every citizen is a shareholder in the miracle called the State of Israel, and it is each person’s right and responsibility to know where it is heading,” continued Bennett.

The document is designed to improve the synchronization between elected officials and professional staff in government offices, and to guide the ministries as they get to work on their annual plan for 2022.

The Prime Minister’s Office directed the ministries to begin working on the project when the government took office in June, and every minister in the ideologically diverse coalition was responsible for his or her own section.

More detailed plans from each ministry will be published in the coming months.

Yamina chief Bennett and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid formed a government in June, ending Benjamin Netanyahu’s record 12-year rule and a political crisis that inflicted four elections on the country in less than two years.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett seen during a plenary session at the assembly hall of the Knesset in Jerusalem, July 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Climate change features prominently in the document, appearing across ministries and policy areas.

“Managing a clean, reliable, and sustainable energy sector for every home in Israel is an ongoing struggle,” wrote Energy Minister Karine Elharrar, “especially in light of our and the entire world’s struggle with the climate crisis that continues to get worse and affect the lives of each and every one of us.”

Her ministry’s policy goals include moving to sustainable energy sources, increased investment in energy R&D, responsible management of Israel’s significant natural gas resources, developing alternatives to petroleum for travel, improving regional energy cooperation and interoperability, and improving Israel’s energy security and autonomy.

“The climate crisis is at full strength,” warned Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg, calling it “a tangible threat to our lives.”

Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg receives an update at the site of an oil leak in southern Israel, August 31, 2021. (Environmental Protection Ministry)

Zandberg pledged that the government would define climate change as one of the primary strategic threats around which Israel crafts its national security policy.

She also said she would seek to pass a comprehensive climate law, which includes declaring a climate emergency.

However, Zandberg did not detail what this potentially far-reaching bill would entail, and how a climate emergency declaration would affect Israel’s economy and the daily lives of its citizens.

The Environmental Protection Ministry goals listed in the document include reforms in recycling, improving environmental standards in Arab cities and towns, protecting natural ecosystems, and bringing environmental standards in line with international norms.

The government also laid out a series of other initiatives aimed at Arab communities.

The Health Ministry pledged to continue advancing the 2015 government decision on improving healthcare in Arab communities, and to increase Arabic-speaking staff, especially in mental health fields.

Demonstrators take to the streets of Umm al-Fahm on March 5, 2021, to protest alleged police failure to root out organized crime and violence from Arab communities. (Joint List)

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev promised to tackle growing violence in Arab society, through increased enforcement combined with developing communal initiatives in education, welfare, and employment, and to tackle the roots of gang activity and other criminal behavior.

Other initiatives, including from the Israel Innovation Authority, seek to raise the number of Arabs, women, and Haredim in hi-tech positions, while the Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Ministry lay out its program to further develop East Jerusalem neighborhoods.

The effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic are also felt throughout the policy paper.

The Education Ministry, which is now in its third academic year affected by the pandemic, laid out a series of steps to minimize the educational social, and emotional harm students suffer as the result of frequent school closures and other disruptions. It pledged to implement a joint program with the Health Ministry, IDF Homefront Command, and municipalities directed at maintaining a school year with as few interruptions as possible.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton at a handover ceremony at the Education Ministry in Jerusalem on June 14, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton also wrote that her office would develop more distance learning tools, identify and narrow education gaps as a result of the coronavirus, and would offer schools flexibility in developing their own responses to the fallout from the pandemic.

Economy Minister Orna Barbivai focused on the effects of COVID-19 on the economy, which she noted was not uniformly affected by the pandemic.

Her goals included accelerating economic growth, improving the skills of Israel’s workers for the modern economy, increasing competition, lowering the cost of living through regulation reform and lowering unemployment.

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