No writer could have dreamt up the scenario that is actually happening in Haifa Port. The story features superpowers and global trade wars, exerting intensifying pressure on little Israel, which is caught between a rock and a hard place. As the story unfolded, Israel found itself in an increasingly embarassing situation until along came a knight in shining armor to the country's rescue - the mayor of Haifa Dr. Einat Kalisch-Rotem, one of the most vilified figures in Israeli politics.
Scene one: Haifa and Ashdod are competing to be the city where Israel's future cargo port will be built. Ashdod emerges as the favorite, but Minister of Transport Yisrael Katz unexpectedly decides that two ports will be built. It will cost the country NIS 4 billion more, but the main thing is for everyone to be happy. Professional staff object, but the Ministry of Finance does not dare to stand in Katz's way, and may even be glad that construction of the new port in Haifa will get rid of the old port in the city, which is largely managed by its workers' committee.
Scene two: the tender to operate the new port in Haifa gets underway, but since it is much less attractive than the southern port in Ashdod, the only bidder is Chinese company SIPG, which operates Shanghai port.
Scene three: Kalisch-Rotem is elected mayor of Haifa. She announces that the plan for the port is unacceptable to her, because it interferes with her plan to expand the airport in Haifa. The state giggles. After all, Haifa Port is listed in plans for areas outside of the Haifa municipality's jurisdiction. It is then discovered, however, that an embarrassing mistake was made in marking the plan, and the entry gate to the area of the future port is located on land belonging to the Haifa municipality. The fact that the Haifa municipality is a partner (albeit a very small one) in the ownership of the land enables Kalisch-Rotem to submit an appeal and petition the court against the plan. The smirks give way to anger against the cheeky mayor, who dares to halt one of the most important plans for the economy after it has already started. "How can she do this at such a late stage? What happened to governability?" the officials ask. "How can it be that nothing in Israel is final?"
Scene four: China and the US are on course for a titanic collision, when the US suddenly notices that the Chinese are about to gain a foothold in the Middle East through the generosity of none other than Israel, America's best friend. The Chinese are taking root right next to the unofficial home of the US Sixth Fleet, enabling them to keep a close watch over the US navy's movements. The security cabinet convenes to discuss the matter, but the minister of transport announces that it is too late - he has promised the Chinese, he says. What happened before when Israel had to cancel the sale of Phalcon aircraft to China is nothing compared with how the Chinese will respond if the SIPG's franchise is canceled. The US protest, which begins with low-key statements, becomes more strident every week in the face of Israel's stammered explanations: first retired generals, followed by the US national security adviser, who asks Netanyahu to get the Chinese out of Haifa. Last week, it was the Senate's turn, and from there, it is a short distance to a terrifying tweet on the president's Twitter account, from which there is no return.
Scene five: "What can rescue Israel and divert it from the two superpowers' collision course?" they are asking in Jerusalem. Our possible answer - Mayor Kalisch-Rotem. The petition to the Administrative Court is exactly the way to back out of the crisis that the Israeli government is looking for. What could be easier than to conduct a legal proceeding lasting many years, while construction of the port in Haifa is suspended. "It's not us," the Israeli government can tell the Chinese. "It won't happen," it will tell the US. Who knows: the movie could even have a Hollywood-style happy ending.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on June 18, 2019
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