They say that this time, for a change, the elections will focus on the economy rather than on peace and security. It's impossible for us to manage without security, so they're talking about a financial "security net" for savers and pensioners. That way, it's more convenient for everyone. And instead of talking about dividing Jerusalem, Tzipi Livni will be free to display her integrity. Who remembers that she washed the corruption off Ariel Sharon, who sent his son to sit in prison in his stead?
Dealing with the economy also frees Ehud Barak from troublesome questions like whether Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is a peace partner, and if not, what will the heir of Yitzhak Rabin propose to do with the territories. And Benjamin Netanyahu, instead of explaining how his "economic peace" goes together with occupation and settlements, will be able to wave about his reputation for being an economic messiah.
However, shifting the agenda to the financial security/safety net doesn't, of course, obligate the neighbors to do the same. Indeed, while Israelis are busy with election campaigns, in the guise of a debate over the future of the economy, Iran and Syria are focusing on the future of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Last week the two countries sponsored a conference on the right of return of Palestinian refugees, which took place in Damascus. The conference attacked the relevant clause in the Arab peace initiative, and declared that the right of return is an individual right reserved for every refugee, and that no one has the authority to negotiate over it.
Meanwhile, at a conference of Arab League foreign ministers that took place in Cairo, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem took Hamas' side in its conflict with Fatah - for which he was harshly criticized by Saeb Erekat, who was representing the PA. The same week, Syrian Vice President Farouk Shara announced that the eastern bank of Lake Kinneret was and will be the border between Israel and Syria. In other words, in a few more dry winters, the border will reach the Tiberias hot springs.
The Jordanian kingdom, the seismograph most sensitive to regional turbulence, has already begun to prepare for a rainy day. King Abdullah has almost completely despaired of the endless negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and has opened his country's doors to the heads of Hamas. Like other Arab leaders, the Jordanian king believes that Abbas' days - or months, at most - in power are limited. The recent decision by the Palestine Liberation Organization's central committee to add the meaningless title of "president of the Palestinian state" to Abbas' already large collection of titles highlights the weakness of the PA leader, who has cast his lot with the political process.
For an entire year, Abbas managed, just barely, to hide the fact that the promise of Annapolis was nothing but an empty shell. The transfer of power in Israel to a coalition that doesn't believe in a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will reveal that the emperor has no clothes. Then, even the title "king of Palestine" and even the new president of the strongest superpower in the world, who will enter the White House in January, will not be able to halt the Hamas victory march from the Gaza Strip to the Muqata in Ramallah. And when the Israeli government is forced to bring back military rule there, Israeli taxpayers will also have to pay for the safety net for the unemployed in the territories.
As long as there are no suicide bombings, it's possible to hitch a ride on the global financial-social crisis and distance oneself from the local political-security crisis. A single shell that causes more fatalities in the south will do for the election campaign what the peace initiative of the 22 Arab states has not succeeded in doing.
The elections for the 18th Knesset are too important to waste on election economics. It's too bad Israeli voters will be enticed to fall into the net the politicians are weaving, which is nothing but a way of camouflaging dangers that are 10 times worse than a temporary financial shortfall. In any case, none of the candidates is concealing a magic solution that will restore confidence in the market, save the provident funds, increase child supplements or reduce the defense budget. How many eligible voters can cite even a single difference in the economic approaches of the major parties? After all, just a few days ago the opposition leader gave his blessing to the prime minister's popular financial plan.
It's not the economy, stupid. This time, more than ever, it's peace and security.
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