Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Jan Gaines' Letter from Netanya

Here is another letter from Jan Gaines, longtime TBE member and current resident of Netanya, on the situation in Israel.

Dear Friends,

I always seem to be bragging about our beautiful winter weather in Netanya while you are shivering with cold, but today I'm also shivering with cold and pleased as punch about it. This is the coldest and rainiest winter I can remember in Israel and as the Kinneret keeps rising and the snow keeps falling on Mt. Hermon, I keep cheering.
Bring It On!!

It may not be so great for the tourists here, but they are good sports.  I'm thinking especially of Hadassah's WIN program (Winter in Netanya) people, including that wonderful couple from TBE, Stephne and Kerrin Behrends.

I've had a chance to host them a couple of times and hope to do more but in the meantime they are just gobbling up their experiences here with teaching English in 2 different high schools, studying a bit of Hebrew, going on special trips, and really digging into everyday Israeli life with gusto.  I'm sure they will have lots to tell when they get back!!

We're in political primary season here too, but there's little resemblance to what is going on in the States. The Likud primary was held yesterday with a foregone conclusion.  Bibi Netanyahu had no real competition. The Kadima party, a centrist party founded by Ariel Sharon, is in the midst of a bitter struggle for leadership between the present leader, Tzipi Livni, who has been a big disappointment to almost everyone, and another former chief of staff, Shaul Mofaz,who will probably win. The Labor party has been rejuvenated with the leadership of another woman, Shelley Yacimovich, a former TV anchor. And since Ehud Barak was almost thrown out of the Labor party he has started his own party which is par for the course, but which isn't taken too seriously.

The country is still in its center-right frame of mind. Bibi could be elected today very easily. There's a gorgeousguy famous from TV, books, etc., Yair Lapid, whose father Tommy Lapid was a very popular and outspoken crusader against the influence of the Haredim,  who has just announced he is running but hasn't yet chosen which party he will join, or whether he'll form his own, but he isn't considered a threat to Bibi yet.  And the longer the PA remains intransigent and opting for UN approved statehood, the more public  opinion is going to lean to the right. The PA has a very good Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, but he just can't get any traction against the old guard, or support from the general public, or from Hamas. Just today, the Jerusalem Post cited his retreat from trying to impose meaningful income taxes on both businesses and the public.According to a poll by the Near East  Consulting group out of Ramallah, " if the PA faces a financial crisis it is not their fault. Israel is to blame because of the barriers it imposes."  The Poll showed that "54% prefer foreign support as the best way to solve their deficits."  They see their financial situation "as the responsibility of the international community." So their position of "victimhood" (my word) just continues.

The paper also cited the extent of of support from  U.S.AID.  Since 1994, it has spent $3.4 BILLION in development aid to the West Bank and Gaza.  The Palestinians keep expecting the rest of the world to support them financially and politically and so far the world has obliged. I'm sure that in your news media, the failure of the current talks are due to Israeli refusal to accept the two conditions the PA are demanding: a pull back to the pre-1967 lines, and  a cessation of "settlement" construction. Never mind that almost all settlement building is in existing towns within the boundaries of greater Jerusalem which Israel will never give back.  There are no new settlements being constructed.

\Yes there's a big debate over how to handle the real illegal settlements to avoid any bloodshed between the police and the young "hilltop youth" but slowly the government is taking down temporary hilltop sites and I'm sure will do more in the coming months. One thing that has slowed things up is that the land Palestinians claim as theirs isn't necessarily theirs. There is no documentation.  So a new trio of retired legal experts has just been appointed to help set some parameters for this problem.

Except for the wild and welcome weather, things in Israel are flourishing. The unemployment rate just went down again.  It hovers around 5%.  Tourism is big this year, the economy is robust, but bracing for a turndown because so much of our exports go to the U.S. and Europe, and both have slowed greatly. But people are quite content. As much as Israelis can be "content".  I'm not sure that's an apt adjective for the Israeli spirit.

There was an article in the January 30 issue of the Jerusalem Report which you can find on TBE's magazine rack upstairs, which cites an OECD survey of rates of longevity across the world and Israel is ranked 4th, after Japan, Switzerland and Spain and Italy tied for 3rd. And Israeli men take the title of "the world's highest life expectancy,- - - -living on average to 80.2 years." So think about that, you people who are planning to retire.  Come to Israel and live longer.

Happy Tu Bishvat and Happy Living.  Jan Gaines

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