Things have never been better: The number of millionaires in the country soared by 43 percent between 2008 and 2009, with 2,519 new ones joining the 5,900 we already had, for a total of 8,419 Israeli millionaires. Their total net assets rose by about 41 percent, from $30.1 billion at the end of 2008 to $42.4 billion at the end of 2009. No wonder it's impossible to find a luxury apartment to buy or to reserve a table at a top restaurant in Tel Aviv, or that tickets for "Nabucco" were so hard to get. Never was so much owned by so few Israelis. Never has life been so good here for so wealthy an elite, as the country is poised at the brink of the abyss.
Things have never been worse. The superpower under whose patronage we shelter is becoming increasingly weak and increasingly distant. As a result of these two mutually amplifying processes the Middle East is becoming unstable. There is no one to stop Iran's rise or Turkey's growing extremism, or to provide security for the moderates in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Palestine. The states to the east fear the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, while those to the north are building up their forces in anticipation of a nuclear Iran. And a firestorm of hatred for Israel raging throughout the world. Israel's legitimacy as well as its deterrence are eroding. It's no wonder that the national security adviser is nostalgic for the first term of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, or that the army chief of staff pines for the days when Ehud Barak was chief of staff. The geostrategic situation is grave. And we are partying on the beach while ignoring the tsunami already visible on the horizon.
Never has the gap between our economic and international situations, or between the state of our consciousness and our security situation, been greater. Not even in the days leading up to the Yom Kippur War were we in such a deep state of denial. Everything's great: Inside Israel the economy is booming, there is general jubilation - la dolce vita at its sweetest. But all around, the siege is tightening. No reasonable remedy is in sight for the twin threats of missiles and of a nuclear Iran, nor does an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appear imminent.
While 8,419 millionaires increase their own capital using Israel's uniquely excellent human capital, millions of Arabs and Muslims wondering whether the Jewish state will last. They see a declining West that turns its back to Israel and a rising East that challenges Israel. They see an Israel that repeatedly demonstrates shortsightedness. Many of our neighbors are starting to have secret, dangerous thoughts.
Israel is not weak. If any of its neighbors makes a mistake, it will receive a knockout punch. But if there is a government in Jerusalem it must make every effort to stop the decline, to revive the peace with Egypt and with Jordan, to leave no stone unturned on the Syrian track, to expedite the territorial division, to create a common forum for cooperation with the United States and with the moderate Arab states, and to create a stabilizing process to counterbalance the destabilizing process that threatens the Middle East. The government understands everything but does nothing. Its inaction constitutes negligence, as does Kadima's unwillingness to let the government change its shape and its course. Netanyahu's foot-dragging on the one hand and Tzipi Livni's pettiness on the other perpetuate a catastrophic paralysis.
The Israeli public will not take to the streets. It is exhausted and confused and despairing. But the economic elite, the 8,419 Israelis who became so much richer last year, can bring about change. If they were to use their wealth and influence to demand that Netanyahu, Barak and Livni join hands, they would very likely succeed. It's time for those who have benefited greatly from living here to accept responsibility. Given the gravity of Israel's situation, wealth is not only privilege, but also obligation.
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