Photo Credit: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, June 2, 2021.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, both from Yamina, are leading a move to decentralize the national government’s powers and transfer them to the municipalities, Israel Hayom reported Monday (יוזמה: סמכויות מהממשלה – לשלטון המקומי). According to the report, on Sunday a resolution to decentralize government powers and move them to local governments, as well as the reduction of regulation is expected to be submitted to the cabinet for approval, to increase the efficiency of local governments.

The Director-General of the Prime Minister’s Office, Yair Pines, noted that “during the Corona period we felt more than ever the capabilities of local governments. This resolution will streamline the work of the national and local governments, and bring about more efficient utilization of budgets, the implementation of significant reforms, and, of course, better service to the residents that’s tailored to their specific needs.”

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Interior Ministry officials noted that apart from the fact that the State of Israel has only two levels of government – central and local, with no regional level in between, the Israeli government holds most of the powers that affect the activities of local government.

The ministry believes that high centralization leads to the under-utilization of the potential for local economic growth, to possible harm to democracy in local government, and to difficulty in promoting a locally-based long-term policy.

Therefore, the Interior Ministry will concentrate its efforts on promoting decentralization in Israel, out of a desire to produce short-term results as well as a dialogue between the central and local governments.

“This is a revolution in the relationship between local governments and the central government,” said Interior Minister Shaked. “Our goal is to strengthen local governments.”

Interior Ministry Director-General Yair Hirsch clarified that “the first and main task assigned to me is to ‘let the local authorities work.’ We are talking about reducing bureaucracy on two levels: decentralization of powers and transferring them to local governments, and improvement of the Interior Ministry’s existing service to the municipalities.”

Hirsch stressed that “the decentralization of powers should be distributed intelligently and not evenly. There are 257 local governments in Israel, each of which is unique. The idea is to release them to do their job for the benefit of the citizens, with minimum government intervention.”

It remains to be seen just how far the two leaders are prepared to go with their plan, in one of the most centralized regimes in the world outside China and Cuba. At this point they said nothing about the fact that the vast majority of state lands are owned by the central government, giving it absolute control over the economy. Then there’s the issue of the purchase of medicine, the famous “basket” that sets one standard for the entire country. What about education? Will it continue to be governed from Jerusalem or will the local municipalities be permitted to tax and spend individually, and make local decisions on educating local children? At first glance, it appears that the Bennett-Shaked ambitious plan is far from being ambitious enough – but we would be only too happy to be proven wrong.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.
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