Today is the anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Ariel Sharon won't be in the country, he won't take part in the state memorial ceremony at Mt. Herzl - and it's best that way. Hypocrisy also has to have its limits. Some of us will not forget - and will never forget - that Sharon was one of those who stood on the incitement stage in Jerusalem's Zion Square when the crowd raised signs showing Rabin dressed in an SS uniform, and those on the platform did not protest. He took an active part in the incitement against Rabin, and called the Oslo agreements - a courageous and important act of statesmanship that could have brought peace and security and economic prosperity - "an act of treason."
During Rabin's term in office, unemployment dropped from a record 11.6 percent in 1992 to 6.6 percent by the end of 1995. Growth reached a record 7 percent. Standards of living rose sharply. Huge multinationals came to Israel for the first time, and foreign businessmen invested billions of dollars a year. Twenty-five countries recognized Israel for the first time, and Israeli exports reached Oman and Qatar. The economy thrived and the future looked brighter than ever - until the murderer showed up and changed our lives.
Now, after nearly two years of Sharon, the economy is facing its worst crisis in history, the national mood is depressed, and talk about leaving has become more legitimate than ever before. Never has per capita production dropped two years in a row, never have people been fired, wages cut, and factories closed at the current rate. Never have the forecasts for the coming year been so dim. But despite all this, Sharon enjoys widespread popularity, and only because he's a public relations master who with nonsensical rhetoric can turn day into night and black into white.
At Monday's opening of the Knesset's winter session, Sharon was amazing with his rhetorical juggling. "It's incredible that we should make painful concessions to the Palestinians for the sake of peace and not be ready to make concessions for the sake of our existence and livelihood," he said. The words were aimed at the strikers and the Labor Party. But what "painful concessions" was he talking about? Sharon, after all, has proved all along that he's the last one ready to make any concessions. What he is ready to do is to continue the war until the other side surrenders, if it surrenders, and to encourage lawbreakers in Hebron who make a disgrace of the term Jew; he's ready to advance the colonialist expansion on every hilltop to make clear that the Palestinians have no chance to ever get a state; he's ready to humiliate the Palestinian leadership to prevent any chance for negotiations. Sharon is not interested in negotiations, because then he would really have to concede the territories and the settlements, and he doesn't have the courage to do so, because it would endanger his regime, supported, as it is, by the extreme right.
In economic matters, Sharon has developed a similar technique. On the one hand he promises the world - cutting every corner, protecting the deficit and refusing to surrender to the strikers. But in reality, he hands out money left and right to anyone who puts on a bit of pressure, because how important can inflation and the budget be when the supreme goal is preserving his seat?
At the same time he was standing in the Knesset and saying, "it's impossible for everyone to come and demand, give, give, give, because there's nothing to give." He promised Negev and Galilee politicians that he would cancel the cuts in the benefits that go to their regions, whether for housing or land purchases. What's NIS 300 million compared to a few more votes in the Likud Central Committee and a little more support in the development towns? That zigzagging policy, which is fatal to the economy, was brought to a climax last December when he ceremoniously promised to cancel the Negev Law and the large family law. But who said promises are meant to be kept?
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