Local councils and mayors elections of Israel’s cities will be held on October 30. Candidates are becoming increasingly active while trying to increase the turnout percentage and attract as many supporters as possible.
Who will take place in the «garden city»
The mayor position, especially in the major cities of Israel, determines both socio-economic policy choice and financial flows redistribution, i.e. including state budget money intended for various infrastructure projects.
Their volume largely depends on the mayor’s relations with parliamentary parties. An important argument to vote for certain party is the mayors cities development success, who provided these parties with the power for the electorate in the elections to the Knesset.
Political ideology and intersectional confrontation are combined with the «streets rubbish» and public WC in the pre-election rhetoric on the ground. For example, Haifa dirty streets and collapsing houses and closed public street and beach WC issue competes with the current mayor’s «arabic origin» topic and Russian-speaking people discrimination in the governing municipality bodies.
Beautiful Haifa pictures as a «garden city», which the new mayor will turn the city into, in pre-election campaign are just as popular on social networks as «Palestinian Arabs transfer» who live in Haifa.
Ways to manipulate the voters’ consciousness require a separate article. Therefore, we will leave ideology and fantasies while replacing them with the reality.
The future Haifa mayor will influence the huge financial flows distribution and economic processes. The mayor determines how and whom space for construction will be allocated to, especially when there is a shortage of land given the urban land and real estate cost.
Whom will the housing renovation programs (Pinwui Binui) be implemented in the existing residential area through. Large construction corporations and financial-industrial groups are fighting for their influence on the future mayor openly and secretly.
From this point of view, the most important document which determines the Haifa future is the Master Plan for the city development, which designates economic development directions, demographic expectations and urban infrastructure improvement ways.
Such documents are created and accepted while considering the citizens’ opinions and are open for study and posted on the municipality website. The lack of an approved and actual Master Plan allows the city’s management to distribute land and building permits manually, send money for repairs to those city areas where the mayor voters are concentrated and resolve business issues in accordance with the personal interest level. This applies to both the current mayor and anyone who will become Haifa mayor on October 30, 2018, or later in the second round, if the future city owner’s business is connected with construction and design.
It’s possible to believe in the mayoral candidates’ promises sincerity to «relocate» the city residents to social utopia analogue «Heavenly Haifa», where the purest environment is combined with the most convenient public transport, the most perfect education and health care.
The sweetest Arabs, closed in their districts and a large Russian-speaking people number in the municipality structures should be added to this. If we discard the global social and political issues the mayor is going to resolve, the city’s development issues solutions will contradict with the economic decisions made and geopolitical Haifa position.
There are some points increasing the «economic interest» to Haifa mayor position and previously programming the city development directions.
- First, state financing. Haifa Municipality signed an «umbrella agreement» with the Ministry of Finance, the Israel Land Administration and the Ministry of Housing on 3 billion shekels provision for Haifa reconstruction on March 2018. 15,000 housing units will be built, some infrastructure port elements will be moved and Haifa Embankment will be opened in its place. Tens of thousands of new residents may appear in Haifa, which will further increase the land value and aggravate the contractors’ desire to build new high-rises in the old city districts. Such a project will require the railway tracks reconstruction and loading transport infrastructure and public transport issue solution.
- Secondly, Chinese investment. Haifa is one of Israel cities, which has an active Chinese economic expansion. The Chinese won new Haifa port construction and operation tender.
Major General Shaul Choref, the head of the Center for the Study of Maritime Policy and Strategy at the University of Haifa said on September 2018, that China presence in Haifa port threatens Israeli cooperation with the United States. The United States sees the main rival of the coming decades in the People’s Republic of China.
The port in not the only China is actively investing in. For example, University President Ron Robie said on September 18, 2017 that the Chinese-Israeli research center at the Haifa University on developments in artificial intelligence in partnership with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, will be provided at least 10 million dollars over the coming years, at the signing ceremony of an agreement between the University of Haifa and the largest Hangzhou Wahaha Group in China.
China is going to invest billions of dollars in Israeli high-tech, where now its share is up to 20%.
China will undoubtedly benefit from Israeli companies in the construction and trade markets and it is obvious that the mayor and the parliamentary parties which support ot will depend on how much Chinese expansion in Haifa will be controlled. Although international experience shows that the Chinese are able to financially motivate both mayors and states heads.
- Thirdly, Haifa strategic importance strengthening in international trade.
«Regional World Rails» project launch was announced by Israel Katz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Transport and Intelligence on June 2018.
Syria war has redirected cargo flows from Turkey to Haifa port and from there to Jordan for the past few years. Haifa Beit Shean branch line started to function in 2016, where a cargo terminal was also built at, where goods being transited through the Sheikh-Hussein border checkpoint are delivered to. The railway network will be built from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf within the new project. One of the new network branches will pass through Jenin, which will also include the Palestinian Authority into the project.
But what about Haifa Master Plan, which defines the main city’s development directions for many years to come and which should guide the city mayor by.
Haifa was developed according to the General Plan for the last 83 years, developed during the British Mandate. Haifa City Hall website posted the info on Master Plan No. 229 which entered into force on February 15, 1934.
A heated discussion around the new General Plan No. 2000 unfolded in 2014–2015, as can be judged, for example, from Einat Kalisch opposition leader movement website, which has 170 page document with various additions and changes to Master Plan project.
County Planning and Construction Committee approved the new Haifa Master Plan According to an article posted on the Haifa news website on November 10, 2016.
The document which determines the city development and which declares Haifa residents number will reach 330,000 people until 2025.
Whether the new mayor will be able to refuse from the already adopted document and to ensure the amendments introduction to this strategic document in accordance with his election promises. This question remains open.
Haifa is the dirtiest Israel city which has own chemical plants, an oil refinery and a port and will turn into a construction site soon, where chemical emissions from Batey Zikuk and Himkalim will be mixed with construction dust. All this will ensure the first Haifa place in terms of cancer for decades to come.
The saddest thing is that the improvement or cancellation of the Master Plan will result in new construction projects will fail to start in accordance with the agreed residents and the document approved by the City Council. All will be based on the political and economic feasibility, determined by the city leadership.
Several questions arise for mayor candidates from the issues mentioned above.
- Whether the future mayor will be able to change the Haifa Master Plan, which contains his pre-election campaign promises?
- How will the Chinese strategic plans for Haifa development affect the «garden city» pre-election pictures implementation proposed to the electorate?