TEL AVIV — After the final breakdown of the election results were confirmed, it was clear who sent Benjamin Netanyahu back for another term as prime minister: the people of the so-called "periphery" of Israel, far away from the urban centers in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa.
Support from small towns and distant suburbs had more to do with the center-right leader's striking reelection than from any other part of the country.
The numbers are clear. The Likud was the biggest party in most towns in the Negev and Galilee. Additionally, the parties that were planning to form a coalition with the Likud were also among the big winners in these regions.
It is not that others had ignored these parts of Israel, from the ultra-orthodox “Yahad” to the Joint List of the Arab parties, to the moderate factions, everyone wanted to show that the interests of the periphery were at the top of the list of priorities, even though most agreed it was mostly a political calculation by all.
Now that the campaign is over, and the talks about the 2016 budget, coalition agreements and priorities take place behind closed doors, the moment has come for the winners to repay their debts, and the periphery will be at the center of the legislative agenda.
If you build it ...
First, the government must bring back the "periphery grant," those $20,000 stipends given to young couples who buy their first apartment in remote locations. This grant was one of the first cuts of the outgoing finance minister Yair Lapid.
Even though he promised compensation in the form of a cut on sales tax, every young couple in the periphery will agree that it is better to be given a grant than a controversial plan that has yet been passed.
It is true that this grant hardly pushed a wave of couples to flee Tel Aviv to go settle in smaller cities, but it definitely allowed the people from the periphery to move in order to look for an affordable housing.
Secondly, the transportation reform in the north and south of Israel has to go forward and even to go further than previously planned. The roads built during the past government made Haifa more accessible from remote cities. Some of these cities saw themselves transformed from an aging industrial town to a young, more modern center.
In the absence of affordable apartments in the center and the lack of desirable jobs in the periphery, reducing the transportation time considerably from the periphery to the big cities must be a primary and fast-tracked national mission.
Still, the main issue in the periphery is the lack of employment. The Negev and Galilee regions have long been the traditional core of Israeli industry, and even some of the country's newer high-tech companies. But it's been too long since they have seen real economic growth.
Indeed Israel is a small country, where every place is rather close to everywhere else. Surely in any developed country, the big cities are a magnet for people from the periphery, but in Israel it became a far too pervasive reality that only by moving to the center could one achieve social mobility and economic well-being. It is bad for both the periphery and for the center, and unjust for the people left behind.