Howard Epstein



The Have-Nots

Who are the have-nots in Israeli society? None other, it turns out, than its royal first family, Mishpachah Netanyahu. With a home in Caesarea to maintain, it is understandable that the Netanyahus feel unable to cope, on his prime ministerial salary of $4,500 per month net of all expenses (including for his armored car), with the cost of such essentials as pink cigars and Cuban champagne (or was it the other way round?).

We do not know how many state banquets the first family enjoy free and gratis, nor who pays for the burekas brought to the PM during working lunches, but is it too much to ask that a little subsidy be provided by friends, such as the odd Hollywood mogul who, indubitably without wanting anything in return, wishes to ensure that the first lady does not go (like Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ancient mariner) with throat unslaked, and that Bibi be not deprived of the opportunity to do more decent things with his cigars than Bill Clinton could ever have imagined, like (“You set fire to it, Walt?” pace Stan Freburg) smoke them.

Unkind observers might say that, if Forbes magazine is right and the Prime Minister’s net worth is $11 million, he would have done himself a power of good saying a modest no thank you to those who might come bearing gifts from the Wild West, lest he appear less pure than, say, Benny Begin, Theresa May, John McCain or the driven snow. Yet that would be to expect that Netanyahu who, with rather less humility than might have been good for him, given the mounting investigations into what could turn out to be seriously substantive corrupt practices, should have shrunk from declaring last week that he is here to stay, come what may.

And who could blame him? Do you think he would be asking the Knesset to build an Eastern White House (the Israeli political leader’s future official residence and office) if he did not intend to occupy it with his gracious first lady for another twenty-five years – basically until he has to leave feet first? Slated to be between five and eight storeys high, with 60,000 meters2 of above-ground space (and who knows what below) for only something approaching a billion shekels by the time it is done – Oy! Vot a metziyah! – this will knock the home of everyone who is not Arnon Milchan or Sheldon Adelson – or Donald Trump – into a cocked yarmulke.

We shall see how it goes with Bibi, but one suspects that he might be well-advised not to buy any long-playing gramophone records of the speeches of Winston Churchill.

The Haves and Have-Nots

Every society has its haves and have-nots. The haves have their Ferraris and BMWs, their Cuban cigars and their pink champagne, whilst the have-nots have not food on the kids’ breakfast table. You will meet Israelis who deny that there is any deprivation here – or who say it is restricted to two sectors: the Orthodox Jews and the Arabs, as though they do not matter. This is, of course, nonsense, for every sector of society matters, the haves depending for the security of their bubble of privilege on the gap between them and their poorest near neighbours being not so egregiously large (for how far distant can be any two points in Israel?) that the have-nots find the haves so revolting that they, err, start revolting.

Once civil society breaks down and anarchy follows, what use riches? (Uncertain of the answer? Go ask the ghost of Marie Antoinette. Or those of the Romanovs.) The first things to be torched are the cars, and the next the homes, of the wealthy. The cigars get trashed and the champagne either poured away or, worse, consumed by those who do not know their Veuve Clicquot from their Coke Zero. For civil society to be roughly in equilibrium requires a reasonable balance between the richest and the poorest, the best and the worst paid – and not least in a given company. An obscene difference between the average take-home pay of the employees and that of their bosses will eventually corrode effective corporate governance. The same applies in society as a whole.


We live in an age, socialism and communism having failed, when “the workers” do not have a ready-to-hand ideology that promises them redemption. (Let’s face it, the last surviving ideology, fundamentalist Islam, is not to everyone’s taste.)

Absent an ideology, how are the root causes of jealousy to be removed? It can be achieved by inculcating an ethos of reasonableness on the part of the strong in their attitudes to the weak: share out your bounty (if only to protect the longevity of your privileged status).

Let us trim the prime minister’s vanity project a little – say Philippine mahogany instead of the Brazilian variety for the finishes- and provide some much-needed help to the weakest elements in our Jewish State, with all that that should imply in terms of rachmanut.


How it Works in the Palestinian Sector

Whichever way the problem of what to do with the Palestinians, and what the Palestinians should do for themselves, goes now, with the promise of Jared Kushner’s arrival at the behest of his father-in-law – because if Jared can’t fix it President Trump does not know who can – the realities of their (the Palestinians’) haves and have-nots is determined by their own brand of what they have not. And what they have not, in extremely large (negative) quantities, is good leadership.

Arguably, Israel too has suffered, since the days of Ben Gurion and Begin, from poor quality leadership; but it is less critical for those who already have their state, and seek to protect and grow it. For the Palestinians, the need for good quality leadership, indeed leadership of the highest order, is paramount.

The Palestinians have their rich and their poor, but both sectors are have-nots politically: they are, and have for generations, been fed the line that the Jews (Israelis) are descended from pigs and apes, they exist only to be killed and they can be defeated, and driven out of Palestine, which means every part of Israel from Metulla to Eilat and from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, at some future point. Well that point has been ever-vanishing for them, and is now utterly indiscernible (as even the Saudis are now telling the Pals).

To have this line fed to you, your elders and your descendants, for generations means being left without the slightest grip on reality. Consider: I may imagine that I could be a Bill Gates or a Michael Bloomberg, but it would mean that I was still listening to the voice of my doting grandmother long after she has passed on. No. If I get a grip on reality, I shall appreciate that those geniuses I shall never be. Fortunately, I listened to reason and appreciated my limitations long ago.

That is what the Palestinians need to do now. Ignore the voices they have always heard, look around them, listen to their Israeli Arab cousins, who work, shop and play in Israel – in every part and manifestation of it – and realize that Israel and the Israelis are not going anywhere, and that they do not merely tolerate their Arabs: they work with them, they employ their services, they do business with them, they buy in their shops, they are tended by Arab medical staff, and they tend Arab patients, they barbeque next to them on the beach, they live next door to them in many and increasing numbers of urban locations – and the only Jewish resentment that arises from all this proximity and interaction is that, in a massive insult to South African Africans, the Apartheid-Israel line is still trotted out by the ignorant and the hateful.

So, the saddest thing about ordinary Palestinians is the way they have been fed delusions for too long. Israel is a superstate in the region and has one of the most dynamic economies in the world with little international debt, massive per capita foreign exchange reserves, awesomely capable cutting-edge industries, an effective security apparatus and growing respect from abroad. If we are willing to market our technology to African states, and the Muslim states of the former Soviet Union, why would we not do so with our immediate neighbours, so that they become both increasingly prosperous, eventually to have little to complain about and something material to lose in future conflict?



Now the problem is that I just asked an unnecessary question. Of course, “ordinary” Palestinians would settle for that if their leadership did not tell them – even now – that it is a zero-sum game that they can still hope to win. Does Abu Mazen look like Michael Bloomberg to you? For that matter, does he look like the Emir of Qatar? OK, so he can hope to keep trousering millions of euros and dollars (Obama tried to send Abu Mazen $221 million as a going-home prezzie – thus demonstrating that where Israel is concerned he (Obama) was prepared to be both bully and snake-in-the-grass), but that is what Palestinian leaders have always done, otherwise, how would the widow of Yasser Arafat still be living at the Hotel George V in Paris twelve years after he passed on?


As for aspiring to be a leader who has the ability to take his people onto a higher level of existence, what Abu Mazen needs is a transfusion of reality. It would have been hard enough to push two million Jews (the Israeli population for decades) into the sea when they were few, poor and weak – goodness knows the Arab armies tried often enough – but now, given what Israel is today, the task is not merely Sisyphean – it is like taking a coconut to destroy a hammer.



Appreciating, therefore, that Israel is not without goodwill to its Arabs and not going to disappear, ever, instead of dreaming up a fourth Intifada, the Palestinians need a radical rethink. This will entail abjuring nihilism and embracing the desire to build, emulating what is best about Israel and, should there still be a residual desire to kill Jews, to do it with kindness. Change the habit of several lifetimes – of generations – and just try it: kill us with kindness. What they would get in return would be a cornucopia of beneficence.





Building The World’s First Twenty-First Century City (WF21CC)

Having discussed demographic pressures and rewards, the amenities that would be on offer,  and the transport options, needed to tempt people from the Center to the Deep South of Israel, and having argued that fiscally few nations, if any, are better placed today than Israel to rise to the challenge, let us this week envision what Paran, the WF21CC might offer.

As we approach at the speed of the High Speed Train from the north, we shall see two massive domes, like that built for the London millennium celebrations, that is still in daily use. These will provide climate-controlled environments for “out-door” activities (jogging, climbing, hiking, sailing, rowing, etc) that might otherwise be tough in the desert heat by day and its chill at night. Between them will be placed the world’s first universal-university, which will have within it hi-tech industries, for a symbiotic relationship with the shortest lines of communications yet seen between academia and factory floor/computer lab.

The same will extend to the arts and culture, so that the city’s concert hall will be on campus, as will be the coffee shops and the best restaurants, to ensure that there will be no ivory tower mentality.

The community centers and housing will extend from the universal-university radially like the spokes of a wheel, and around the circumference will be the car parks where any fossil fuel vehicles (should there be any by them) and larger vehicles will be parked, whilst the HST (or Hyperloop, should we elect to half the journey time from the Center to the Deep South once again, to twenty minutes) will stop at the universal-university. This, then, will be the city center, with the city hall also on campus. European-style boulevards will run in and out of the domes, as will swimming pools.

Travel within the city will be by all electric autonomous vehicles, or by SkyTran. This particular world’s first: ( is, even now, about to be built in Tel Aviv (then in Mumbai). The pods, lightweight two-passenger vehicles, suspended from elevated passive-magnetic levitation tracks, will achieve fuel economy of the equivalent of over 200 miles per US gallon (240 mpg-imp; 1.2 L/100 km) at 100 miles per hour (160 km/h) or more. They will move people around town really fast, quietly and healthily, and cost little more than a bus ride. Boarding and alighting will be rather like a with a cable car to the ski slopes, for the pods will move very slowly through the stations.


All of these technologies are sustainable and none will pollute the pure desert air. There will be no road accidents, thereby reducing community costs (and trauma) enormously. Housing will be to the highest international standards, being new-style prefabrications or on-site 3D print-outs.

None of this is food for futurists or science-fiction. All it needs is for government to embrace it, and thereby hold out the promise of relief from the overcrowding and geo-strategic vulnerability of Tel Aviv and the Sharon region, plus the space to absorb any one million or more European Jews who will feel increasingly uncomfortable as the Islamization of Europe gathers pace – or is rolled back by right wing governments.

Lastly, next week: costing the project.

© January 2017 – Howard Epstein

Howard Epstein is a political commentator and the author of Guns, Traumas and Exceptionalism: America in the Twenty-First Century, published by Amazon and on Kindle. He writes:-

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