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Economy Over Security

28 September 2003

By Yisrael Ne’eman

It is three years since the Palestinian violence broke out on Sept. 29, and Israeli Arabs demonstrated (and some rioted) in support on Oct. 1, 2000.  Israel is in the Rosh Hashanah – Yom Kippur season and as usual, some accounting is necessary.

At first Israelis dealt with a security threat, reaching its peak with the Netanya Passover massacre in March 2002.  Today the country is much safer.  In 2000 the Right was in the opposition and Labor led by Ehud Barak handled the first half year of confrontation.  With the Sharon victory of 2001 policies changed to include the full rooting out of Palestinian terrorism and not just defensive activities.  Until Sept. 11, the western world howled and demanded a peaceful solution beyond the massive concessions the Barak government offered.  Over the past two years Israel has effectively contained most terrorism, but not all.

Israelis argued over complete separation from the Palestinians as determined by the Oslo Accords and the Bush Road Map, but the Right refused to accept the idea despite PM Ariel Sharon’s acceptance.  The Likud central committee voted overwhelmingly against a Palestinian state, undermining the PM’s position in the party but strengthening him at the polls.  Today just the very extreme Right denies reality and believes in the Greater Land of Israel.  Only after hundreds of preventable casualties is the separation fence being built, and parts of it over the objections of the Americans.  Today the most complicated and controversial 45 kilometers between southern Samaria and Jerusalem are to be approved at a cost of over $120 million (1/2 billion shekels).  Right wing bluster was finally defeated but at a horrible cost.

It may sound strange but with time Israel’s security situation continues to improve.  This summer there was a flood of tourists for six weeks, an influx not seen in three years and a testimony to the general feeling of safety.

On the economic front three years of conflict, hi-tech downward spiral and the effects of 9/11 have left the government and the average Israeli seriously in debt.  The GNP lost 2%, unemployment is around 11% and the government is grappling with a structural overhaul.  This second front is the most serious, demanding cooperation from all sectors.  The Histadrut labor union is imposing sanctions and has closed Israel’s ports (see     ).   2000 stevedores are holding the country hostage because of Finance Minister Netanyahu’s plan to establish three government companies to run Israel’s ports at Ashdod, Haifa and Eilat.  This could prove deadly for industry.

Israeli Arabs only lost from the October 2000 events.  To this day many Jews still avoid business or travel in Arab villages.  Unemployment is reported higher than ever in the Arab sector (many worked in tourism).  Their identification with the Yasir Arafat and the Palestinian Authority worked against them in the past two years in particular.  Many want to find their way back to the Israeli mainstream despite the small minority involved in terror activities.

The Palestinians paid the highest price, no state, no entity, no security, no economy to speak of and a separation fence which will stop illegal workers coming to Israel.  They were on the verge of gaining all of the above and Israeli economic cooperation.  Instead they followed Arafat on the way to hell and dire poverty.

For both peoples security is no longer the foremost issue, economy is.