A morning-after vision

A morning-after vision
Jerusalem Post Editorial
April 7, 2005

Major policy shifts need three things: vision, planning and management. The more it unfurls, the disengagement plan emerges as impressively endowed with planners and managers, but scathingly devoid of visionaries. The recent failure of a rally in Tel Aviv to attract a large attendance reflected Ariel Sharon's failure to fire the public's imagination with his plan.

Yes, polls indicate that a vast majority back the move, and yes, most agree that separating between Israel and a large swath of the Palestinian population is worth a try, but none see in this a panacea. In this, the current plan is markedly different from the Oslo Accords, whose Israeli masterminds insisted, even long after its thunderous failure, would radically reshape states, societies, and individual lives, both Arab and Israeli.

The lack of popular enthusiasm for the disengagement plan is understandable. The past four years' experiences have made most Israelis suspect that no matter what they do peace will not dawn in their time. They therefore can acquiesce with a plan that will hopefully sharply reduce daily friction with their neighbors, but they cannot be expected to derive from it inspiration.

Yet this plan is a major move, one that will involve thousands of troops, cost millions, and pit Jew against Jew, very possibly violently, and fatally too. It follows that the public deserves, and the situation demands, a sense of vision.

Such a vision can be offered, by shifting resources to a new destination: the South. There, one can inspire a kind of entrepreneurship, and benefit from the sort of consensus, that the post-'67 settlement effort too frequently lacked.

Much has been said here since '67 about Israel's geographic deformity, highlighted by its famously narrow waist. A lot less, however, has been said about the demographic deformity represented by Israel's largest region inhabiting fewer than one in 10 Israelis, while the coastal plain fast approaches density rates that are among the developed world's highest.

There was a time when David Ben-Gurion's vision of settling the Negev was dismissed as impractical, due to the region's remoteness and aridity. Fortunately, times have since then changed. Experts say water, both such that lies under the Negev and that would be brought from other places, can easily support a greater Beersheba metropolis of more than a million people. As for transportation, a train that has been led to the city last decade already makes it hardly an hour's ride away from Tel Aviv, and that too is planned to be further shortened, to just over half an hour within two years.

Yet to transform Beersheba into such a major metropolis government involvement is imperative. An international airport must be attached to it, by partly civilianizing military airfields. More importantly, Ben-Gurion University President Avishay Braverman's demand, that a major hi-tech park be opened alongside his campus, while some of the military's major intelligence, computerizing and training centers be relocated there from their current locations in greater Tel Aviv - must be met.

All this is doable for a country that has already built satellites, computer brains and fighter planes. It just takes an attitude, the very sort Israelis can be expected to welcome the morning after disengagement's execution, when a visionary leadership will hopefully tell them:

We have left Gaza neither to herald peace nor to flee war, but in order to conquer a region that has long been awaiting our embrace: the Negev.